Project SPEAK

Striving to foster meaningful social connections and empower youth by eliminating language barriers in communities.

Photo of Alison Tu
12 11

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Additional categories (optional)

  • Education

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The U.S. is known for being home to immigrants from all walks of life; yet, from looking at just my own community, there is a cultural and language divide that separates kids and hinders their learning. Kids who cannot speak English are left feeling isolated, and despite struggling immensely, are not equipped with a support system or skills to speak up for help. These kids have great potential; it is imperative that they get a chance to succeed.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

It is crucial that a strong mentoring network is established. We will recruit bilingual volunteers that are either older high school or university students, and thoroughly find out their interests and specialties to ensure that each mentor and mentee will have common ground to bond over. These volunteers will meet monthly to brainstorm ideas, as well as spend time going to different schools in the same area to recruit interested participants and raise awareness for barriers that students may not know exist in their communities. In order to facilitate lasting connections, students will have the option of either scheduling in-person meetings (in safe environments determined by mentors and adults) or can utilize a user-friendly online chat service. At these meetings, mentors will guide students and identify areas of struggle while staying in contact with teachers so that academic progress can be monitored. Most importantly, mentors will be prepared to practice conversational skills with students and introduce resources for college readiness. Mentors and mentees can participate in monthly socials where they can meet people of different backgrounds and feel empowered to speak proudly.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

When I was younger, I struggled to express myself at school. My parents were immigrants from Asia, so at home, I practiced zero English. At school, the teacher was always angry at me because instead of speaking English, I was conversing with my friends in Cantonese, not doing work, and preventing all of us from learning to communicate with other kids. The truth was, I had no ill intention to do all that; rather, I was embarrassed that I couldn't speak, couldn't understand how to do my work, and didn't know how to ask for help. My older cousin intervened, and she became a "mentor" that helped me navigate school and gain confidence---and changed my life drastically. I believe that language should NEVER prevent a person from reaching their potential. Looking at the kids in my community go through the same struggles, I feel impassioned and inspired to pass this life-changing opportunity on.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Ella is a sophomore who recently arrived from China. She has had no encounter with English before, but she is still expected to take courses like chemistry and history that are not adapted for English Language Learners. Her grades have dropped drastically, but she feels like she has no one to turn to at school because she has had difficulty making friends and even speaking to her teachers. One day, a Project SPEAK mentor comes and encourages her to join the program. She is nervous, but as she slowly converses and studies with her mentor, her ability to communicate is improving and her teachers understand how they can help. Through attending the monthly socials with other kids, she finds herself smiling and speaking to other kids enthusiastically because she doesn't feel like she is judged; rather, the environment feels safe and for the first time, she feels like she belongs in America.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

While other programs may have similar goals, the specifics of Project SPEAK gives it a unique touch. For one thing, instead of forcing students to awkwardly converse with adults who they may have difficulty resonating with, spending time with younger volunteers will be more comforting like a friendship rather than being lecture-like. While a bit unorthodox, teachers will also work directly with mentors during the entire process. Perhaps most importantly, the inclusive monthly socials allow students from all backgrounds to form social bonds built on positivity and encouragement.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

One of the simplest ways that I plan on measuring progress is to have a friendly conversation with participants right before the program to identify their goals, fears, and struggles. After that, we will have check-ins every three months where we will ask the mentee to rate how they feel about their previous concerns or statements and ask mentors to give us input on how their mentees have been doing conversationally and see if they are in a healthy mental state. As mentors will be working closely with teachers throughout the process, routinely assessing how students are performing in class will be a good way to see if their English fluency has improved enough so that doing work is not as much of a struggle. In addition, one of the most integral actions that we can take is to ensure that students are not alone at socials or school settings and introduce them to other students.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

To take our project to the next level, we could expand the age groups that we cater to. In fact, younger children in elementary and schools could benefit greatly from a program like this with a strong support system. We also have plans to form chapters in the entirety of our local area, as well as our state and the other parts of the U.S. as well! By using the basic structural components of Project SPEAK, the program can be expanded to incorporate students who wish to learn a new language as well. I'm also aiming to empower both our volunteers and mentees with opportunities and resources to work together and advocate for the necessity and powerful impact that this program has in different communities.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 66.7%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sam Stowers

Powerful idea! I went to a very international school, and the ESL kids definitely had a harder time connecting - not because of any fact of their personality, but just discomfort in the language. This program has the benefits of having high potential impact and being scalable (as a peer-to-peer program). Good luck in the challenge!

Photo of Alison Tu

Thank you for your kind words! I really do hope that this project can grow into something impactful and meaningful for every individual. I feel like while there may be similar programs that exist elsewhere, the portion that I really do hope gets to shine through is the idea of helping these kids to feel comfortable and confident in themselves to succeed both academically and socially! It seems like in many cases, programs focus on one or the other. To me though, those two things go hand in hand with developing future leaders of our world and I think it's crucial that this group of kids gets a chance to shine in participating in socials or club activities as well. :) Wishing you good luck with the challenge as well!

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