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Educational beacon of light in Boyle Heights

People United to Enrich our Neighborhood Through Education (PUENTE) learning center is a not-for-profit organization located in Boyle Heights that focuses on the improvement of its community by providing educational resources to predominantly first-generation students and immigrants.

Sister Jennie Lechtenberg was the pioneer of the organization. Sister Jennie began her mission when she discovered that the students who struggled most in school came from households that lacked English proficiency, which resulted in “establishing the foundation for PUENTE as a family-oriented, multi-generational educational organization.” ­

I took a first-hand look at PUENTE as an organization where I was able to interact with the multi-surface composure of the learning facility. PUENTE underlines the organization’s goal of providing primary or supplementary educational program to improve graduation, literacy and employment rates of their students. Boyle Heights is predominantly composed of Latino residents, where the average median household income is about $33,325, which is low for the city of Los Angeles and the county. The low-income has a lot to do with the minimal educational attainment of constituents in Boyle Heights. In a community where less than 5% of its residents who are of the age 25 and older have a four year degree, and less than 33,620 out of 99,243 have a high school diploma there is a representation of how learning facilities like PUENTE serve to combat against the alarming statistics.

The first day I stepped into PUENTE, I was marveled by the architecture of the building, which stands out compared to the surrounding buildings. The crisp glass-like building is two-stories tall with several classrooms and a charter kindergarten. The structure of the learning center’s program is tailored to help families by allowing them to leave their children downstairs in school, while they participate in the English Second Language (ESL) classes upstairs. I was able to alternate between both groups and I found that they both embraced the opportunity of education, regardless of their age. I interacted with students who were only four years of age but they demonstrated a sense of willingness to learn.

Upstairs there were retired people learning English. One of the students was a retired cafeteria worker, who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for about thirty years. She told me that all her life she wanted to learn English but since she had to provide for her family she never had the opportunity, and now that her kids were all grown up she finally pursued her dream.

PUENTE also incorporates other programs to their facility such as after-school enrichment programs, high-school tutoring, SAT preparation, adult high school diploma preparation, job training preparation, job referrals, computer repair A+ certification and even programs to help veterans.

In total, they have served over 85,000 students since their inception in 1985. The administrative staff that runs the organization are all dedicated to serve others through education, which highlights a principal problem in the Boyle Heights area. Puente in the Puente in spanish means bridge in English which is exactly what the learning center is doing, slowly diminishing the gap between the lack of education in low-income communities and the achievement of students.

To find out more about the PUENTE learning center and their mission to help students, feel free to check out their website: http://www.PUENTE.org