Student-led Comparte now running English workshops at four locations in Los Angeles

Natalie Martinez (sophomore), program coordinator of Comparte Program, discusses her experiences with the program at Occidental College. Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental
When Claire Krelitz (senior) joined what would eventually become the Community Partnership for Education and Empowerment (Comparte) in Fall 2015, the group was just beginning to arrange English-language workshops for day laborers at the Cypress Park Community Job Center in Eagle Rock, CA. Now, as Krelitz prepares to graduate in Spring 2019, Comparte’s reach extends to four Los Angeles locations, including on-campus, where Comparte runs weekly workshops for Occidental College employees.

“This semester is our first semester where we have these four partnerships that are really up and running,” Krelitz said.

Claire Krelitz (senior), program coordinator of the Comparte Program, discusses the purpose and accomplishments of the program at Occidental College. Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

The Community Partnership for Education and Empowerment — acronym “Comparte,” which translates to “share” in Spanish — is housed under the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLICE) office. Krelitz serves as one of three program coordinators that oversee 18 student volunteers. Comparte’s workshops at Cypress Park occur biweekly while its workshops at Occidental occur once a week. Comparte also hosts weekly workshops at the Pasadena Community Job Center and monthly workshops at the CARECEN Community Job Center in Downtown LA.

The organization uses a “popular education” model, aiming to eliminate traditional classroom hierarchies, promote reciprocal learning and provide personalized attention tailored to the needs of workshop attendees. Krelitz said that Comparte employees usually work with English learners one-on-one and that workshops focus on vocabulary necessary to negotiate wages, express their health and safety needs, and advocate for better living conditions.

“It’s not seeing English as something that we think we’re diagnosing,” Krelitz said. “Rather, [it’s about] what kind of English can you use and leverage to your advantage, so that [in] places like the workplace or your housing you can feel more empowered, and you can advocate for your rights.”

Krelitz said Comparte workshop facilitators also undergo training on issues such as immigration policy, positionality and privilege in preparation for working at the centers.

“Obviously, we are students at a pretty prestigious and private institution,” Krelitz said. “No matter how much popular education philosophy we do, that is a pretty glaring dynamic that students need to grapple with.”

Comparte began when representatives of the Cypress Park Community Job Center reached out in the summer of 2015 to Heng Lam Foong, then Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) program director, and Valerie Lizarraga, then a Partnership for Community Engagement program coordinator. Cypress Park enquired about a student-led English-language workshop program, and so in Fall 2015, Long and Lizarraga built a student team — consisting of Krelitz, Tatiana Ramos-Gallardo ’17 and Sophia Polo ’16 — to conduct group interviews at Cypress Park to gauge interest. In Spring 2016, Comparte, with a team of 16 students, began running semiweekly workshops at Cypress Park, according to Krelitz.

In Fall 2017, Comparte agreed to requests from organizers at the Pasadena Day Laborer Center to launch a similar program there. The following semester, Spring 2018, Occidental employees in conversation with the Student-Labor Alliance (SLA) — of which several Comparte volunteers are also members — communicated a desire for on-campus workshops. Comparte piloted two such workshops that semester before moving to biweekly in Fall 2018 and then weekly this semester. Comparte’s fourth program with the CARECEN Day Labor Center began with two pilot workshops in Fall 2018 before a monthly program began this semester.

Evie Pope (sophomore), another one of Comparte’s program coordinators, runs the on-campus workshops for Occidental employees. The first workshop of this semester took place Feb. 25. Attendance was low, according to Pope, as it is difficult to find a time that aligns with employees’ disparate shift times.

“It’s been kind of a slow start,” Pope said. “But we’re hoping that [the coming workshops] will be better.”

According to Pope, Comparte has also engaged in political activism related to worker and immigrant rights. Pope said that Donald Trump’s presidency has increased the need for advocacy.

“I hope for the club to have more political activism attached to it. It’s something we’ve done a few times in the past. We hosted a phone bank on campus last year. And then [in Fall 2018], myself and another club member went to Pasadena Community Job Center and helped canvas for raising the minimum wage,” Pope said. “So I think [it’s important] having both English workshops, but also different ways that we help out the community.”

Natalie Martinez (sophomore) is the third Comparte program coordinator and runs outreach to the Pasadena center. Martinez said that Comparte has become one of her favorite and most rewarding experiences at Occidental.

“One of the things that I really like about Comparte is the ability to connect with people that are in our communities, and [it] also reminds me of where I’m from,” Martinez said. “And it’s really nice to have those conversations with people.”

Natalie Martinez (sophomore), program coordinator of Comparte Program, discusses her experiences with the program at Occidental College. Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

Comparte’s relationship with the college has also developed. According to Krelitz, Comparte existed as a student club until Fall 2017, when it was incorporated into the then-Office of Community Engagement (OCE). This semester, the OCE merged with the Office of Student Life (OSL) to form SLICE, under which Comparte is currently housed. This semester also saw the departure of Valerie Lizarraga, former OCE program coordinator and one of the founders of Comparte.

“It’s been slightly tricky, just because [Lizarraga] was part of the founding members of Comparte,” Martinez said. “And so it’s more been trying to find who’s the right person to connect with.”

Krelitz echoed Martinez’s comments about Lizarraga’s importance to Comparte.

“[Lizarraga] had done previous work organizing with day laborers before she came to Oxy. She managed all of the communication with our partners,” Krelitz said.

Overall, Krelitz said, Comparte’s integration into the institutional structure has eliminated many of the budgetary and logistical struggles that members faced in Comparte’s beginning years.

“We are much more integrated in the institution then we were as a student club, and get a lot more support and funding and staff kind of help,” Krelitz said.

Reflecting on her time in Comparte, Krelitz expressed amazement toward and gratitude for the massive growth of the organization she helped found.

“Being here in the fall my first year, and [Comparte] not existing, to now in the spring semester of my senior year, us being at four different places on campus and across LA,” Krelitz said. “[That’s] been the culminating Oxy experience for me.”