Monday tutoring one

Apolina Jerome and fellow students received homework assistance from volunteer tutors from area colleges and universities

When Apolina Jerome came to Hartford with her family from Tanzania in 2016 she didn’t speak English at all. Just a few years later, she found herself on the Dean’s List at Capital Community College.

One of the factors in Apolina’s success was the commitment of one of Hartford Public Library’s volunteers, Carolyn Dorais.

Apolina was a participant in Hartford Public Library’s “Linking Learning, Belonging and Community” After-School English program since its inception in the Spring of 2017.   Apolina and 20-30 other high school students came to the Library after school for instruction in English and homework tutoring.

Then, the pandemic hit and the Hartford Schools shifted to distance learning in the spring of 2020.

For many newly arrived students, coupling online classes with the natural growing pains a teenager feels adjusting to a new culture can be too much.

“They’ve helped a lot of students to do what they need to do,” Apolina said.

That’s where the library can help. With funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Nutmeg Foundation, The American Place offers English classes and tutoring sessions to help give these students the extra support they need to be successful. “They need us now more than ever because distance learning is such a challenge,” said Michele Brophy, an instructional specialist at Hartford Public Library.

The American Place’s volunteer tutors are also adapting to the new learning environment caused by the pandemic. Carolyn Dorais has volunteered with The American Place for six years. After a long career in corporate communications, Dorais retired to Hartford and began working as a citizenship coach. Inspired by Brophy’s program, Dorais decided to shift to tutoring high school students.

“It was such a nice community of kids over there. I really liked being a part of it,” she said.

1)Apolina (2nd from the left) attended the 2019 Beyond Words Gala with her classmates and had the opportunity to hear author, Reyna Grande

1) Apolina (2nd from the left) attended the 2019 Beyond Words Gala with her classmates and had the opportunity to hear author, Reyna Grande

Even after graduating from Bulkeley High School in 2020, Apolina has maintained close ties with the library. This past Fall, Carolyn met with Apolina via Zoom on a weekly basis to provide her with support in her college classes.

“We were able to provide a laptop to Apolina through the ‘Crossroads to Connectivity’ program. With hard work and determination, and Carolyn’s support, Apolina not only completed her first semester of college, she did so with distinction,” Brophy said.

In addition, Apolina reached out to Carolyn – she needed extra help to keep up with her English during the semester intercession. Carolyn, who wasn’t proficient on Zoom before, immediately agreed. She knew that for many immigrants, the time outside the classroom causes their English language skills to atrophy.

Girls at Mark Twain House

Apolina (center) and classmates on an educational field trip to the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford

Over the college break, Apolina and Carolyn continued their weekly meetings, reading Jason Reynolds’ “Look Both Ways” as a way for Apolina to keep working on her English. “She has a very positive approach. I think she is a very positive person in general. She worked hard and I think one of the keys to her success is that she asks for help when she needs it,” Dorais said.

The hard work on everyone’s part paid off. Apolina made the Dean’s List her first semester with a 3.65 GPA and was named to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. “I didn’t expect that,” Apolina said. “There’s no words to explain how I feel.”

In a recent interview, Apolina described long term goals that are like most immigrants trying to get a toehold in America – she’d like to get a good job working in an office and perhaps help purchase a home for her family. First thing’s first. Apolina has to meet with Carolyn today to work on an essay for English class.

“I am happy because I am doing something good that will help me later,” Apolina said.

For more information about the work of The American Place, visit

By Steven Scarpa, manager of communications and public relations


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