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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

First Lady honors Project Alerta for 22 years of education


If you blink you will miss Project Alerta’s tiny office, tucked away on the Wheatley building’s 4th floor. As with many of the programs operating out of UMass Boston, students generally have no idea what goes on in the school’s affiliate offices. That was until First Lady Michelle Obama awarded Project Alerta the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, raising the prestige of this incredible program. The award is a welcome accolade for the after-school program that has been helping Boston Public School students for 22 years.

The program was created in 1988 as an extension of TAG (Talented and Gifted), an after school program for Latino high school students. After a few years, it was clear to project founder Lucia Mayerson-David that more could be done to help children. Project Alerta is the sister program born from Mayerson-David’s ambition. Alerta targets Boston Public School students from grades 3 to 5 and has, since its foundation, been working within communities to lower Latino dropout rates and assist with English language lessons.  

Project Alerta holds their weekly classes in Boston Public elementary schools with high Latino populations. The program is currently teaching in 6 schools and is planning to expand into 2 more locations within the next year.

Each week students participate in a class based on current events, covering topics like Health and Nutrition, Inventions, and Financial Literacy. While these seem like a wide array of topics, teachers make sure the classes contain elements of core subjects like English, Math, and Science. Project Alerta’s objective is to engage participants and inspire a love of learning within young communities. By encouraging students to do their best, normally intimidating prospects, like applying to one of Boston’s exam high schools and later heading off to college, do not seem as daunting.

For those students willing to participate, Project Alerta can become a year-round endeavor. Programs are offered through April and Summer vacation for students who wish to continue their education within Alerta. Both the Summer and the April programs take place on UMass Boston’s campus. These programs focus on community building as well as academic enrichment.  Mentoring, group work, and field trips help create an atmosphere that fosters positive attitudes.

Current director Sonya Espinal did not need the recent $10,000 grant to appreciate the high value of the program. Espinal herself is the product of an ESL (English Second Language) program having immigrated to the US as a child. Thus, she is specially equipped to empathize with the youth Alerta serves. She explains that it is “satisfying and rewarding and an honor for me to now be able to work with the student and the parent that are in the same situation that I was. And help them and be able to give them the help they need.”