With her passion for languages, Palmetto High School senior Jessica Roth is a natural to help children learn how to speak, read and write English. Last year, she and her friend Lauren Bunce started the program A Bridge to English to help students at Pinecrest Elementary learn English as a second language.
“I’m the founding vice president,” Roth says. “We have four different languages.I help with Spanish. We’ve had other volunteers come in for Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese.”
Roth says it’s important to help the thirdgrade children learn English so they can do well in school and pass the FCAT.
“I’ve taken Spanish since I was in the seventh grade at Palmetto Middle,” she says, adding that last year she took Advanced Placement Spanish. The only Spanish class remaining she could take is AP Spanish Literature. Her years of studying Spanish have given her the ability to help the children. She says they made a lot of progress last year.
“We hold our session in the library so we can use books with the students,” she says. “At the beginning of the year, they were sounding out words. Now they can read books a lot easier.”
They used picture books to work with the kids, including Dr. Seuss. They worked with the same third-grade children throughout the year.
Roth hopes to continue working with children and also recruit more volunteers so that more kids can be helped. At the same time, she wants to expand the number of languages offered.
Roth does not limit her community service to the A Bridge to English program. She also regularly visits Douglas Gardens and plays piano for the residents. She plays in the lobby for a half-hour and then goes to the Alzheimer’s unit to play for another half-hour.
“I’ve been playing piano since I was in the first grade and I really enjoy it,” she says. “I wanted to do something with it.”
Her reward is seeing how happy the elderly residents are with her music.
“It makes their day,” she says. “I knew I wanted to play for older people. I researched different places and when I called Douglas Gardens, they said they could accommodate me. They have a really nice piano in the lobby.”
Roth also plays piano for National Guilds Audition competitions.
“I’ll memorize two or three pieces each time and they’ll score my pieces,” she says. “Each time I’ve received superiors, which is the highest score.”
While most people get nervous when taking part in a competition, Roth says she has been playing for so many years that nerves are not a problem when she plays.
“I’m not worried when I go into it,” she says. “It’s more of a personal evaluation.”
Outside of school, Roth tutors other students, primarily in math and science. She also volunteers as treasurer for Partners Seeking a Cure, an organization that raises money to combat liver disease.
“A family member of mine has a liver disease,” she says.
Now that school has started, Roth will be working on her college applications. She is interested in doing something that involved math and science, possibly biomedical engineering. Her college list includes the University of Pennsylvania (her dad’s alma mater), Duke, the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt and possibly Tulane.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld