Clover Park High Air Force JROTC cadet Priscila Desiderio admits she used to be really shy.
But a new tutoring program started by the unit in November is helping the sophomore really come out of her shell and show her leadership qualities.
Each Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m., a group of cadets gather at Park Lodge Elementary to help students enrolled in the YMCA's Before and After School Program with their homework.
The AF JROTC unit started the program to give cadets a chance to really build a connection with their local community.
"It's fun with a real purpose," said Senior Master Sgt. Maureen Arroyo, the unit's aerospace science instructor who oversees the program. "We want to make this a long-term partnership with the school."
Before participating, each cadet had to go through a thorough background check and participate in Child Abuse and Recognition Training. Before cadets started working with students on their homework, program organizers set up ice breaker games so students and cadets could get to know each other. Desiderio has been there each time since the start.
"It has helped me build self confidence," she said with a smile. "It's also helped me get to know other cadets."
Cadet Jesus Lopez, a freshman, decided to participate in the program because he wanted to try a new activity and get more involved with what the unit was doing in the community.
"I didn't get this kind of help with my homework when I was a child, so I want to see these kids get help," Lopez said.
While there are times when the second- through fourth-graders get distracted and their attention might start to wander from their homework, that's when Lopez says his leadership skills start to take over.
"I usually just encourage them to keep going," he said.
The cadets' positive influence on the students is something that isn't going unnoticed by YMCA officials and parents.
"Parents are enthusiastic about it, and the kids really enjoy the interaction with the cadets," said YMCA site director Nakiah Reiter.
The interaction has also helped cadets form a foundation to help them build positive leadership skills.
"It's helped some really come out of their shells," Arroyo said.
The program will continue throughout the entire school year, really giving cadets a chance to be a familiar face that students can turn to for help each week.
"They're building that bond with the children," Arroyo said.
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