An Interview with Sophie Riina

Last week, May 4-8 was Teacher Appreciation Week. Our Education Coordinator, Sophie Riina, is a teacher who, for the past few months, has overseen our Elementary After School Tutoring and SONYC programs. Since we started working remotely, Sophie was instrumental in moving those programs online as well. We spoke with Sophie about her background as an educator, and her experience at CIANA so far.

How long have you been working at CIANA?

I have been working at CIANA since the beginning of February of 2020.

What motivated you to get involved with CIANA’s after-school programs?

I've been working in after-school programs for many years serving immigrant populations. Being a child of immigrants myself, I wanted to continue to help newcomers and first generation Americans in my native neighborhood of Astoria.

Being an Astoria resident yourself, how did that factor into your decision to work at CIANA?

I love Astoria, and I'm very proud to have grown up here, so I wanted to give back to my neighborhood. Additionally, I think it's very helpful for parents and students to have a point of contact who is from the area and might be able to direct them to local facilities and events.

What kinds of experience have you had previously working with students as a teacher? What grades did you teach?

I have a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education and have worked in public schools and in after-schools since 2010. For the majority of my time as a teacher I worked with first grade in after-school settings. I've also worked with the older grades doing media literacy/video production and coaching teams for 3D Printing project design.

Was it difficult at all adjusting into your role as overseeing CIANA’s sometimes-chaotic tutoring program?

I think I would call it busy or bustling! I am used to working in large programs that have many variables, so I'm used to having a lot of activity. One thing that was difficult was trying to manage the shared office space so that the people not directly working with the students weren't interrupted from their work.

Managing kids can be difficult. What strategies have you used to ensure that students stay focused and motivated during tutoring sessions?

I took some time to try and look at our group as a class and go through all the rules that they would have to follow. They know all the rules from school, so it was easy to have them go over them, and remind them that these rules apply at CIANA too (with some additional rules specific to the office) and that we all must follow them. I also introduced a rewards system where the students would receive points that they could accumulate to get a prize of their choosing at a later date.

Since schools are no longer in session, how did you decide to implement online tutoring and SONYC programs.

I realized fairly early on that we should be able to implement our tutoring program online. It took some research to figure out what was accessible to us and what would work best. I knew the kids would be missing going to school and talking with their friends and teachers. I thought we might help to fill that void, as well as help them learn how to navigate online learning and of course help with their homework. Luckily some of our volunteer tutors were able to help us out right away. The tutors have been amazing throughout this time!

What are some challenges and successes of the online programs?

I think the challenge for the younger students has been how to use the technology that they suddenly need to use on a daily basis. Occasional WiFi issues appear too. Attendance has been very high for our online programs so I count that as a big success. I also have begun doing read aloud sessions of books to the group on Fridays. These sessions also have high numbers of attendees, and hope to add more extension activities for the students to do in Google Classroom.

Are there any notable memories you have from running our programs?

It was fun working at the office with the kids and tutors. I enjoyed when it had the more organized kind of busy activity with all the students working on different things. More recently, I enjoy visiting the meetings between tutors, students, and parents and always seeing everyone busy with their work and happy doing so.

The CIANA team sincerely appreciates all Sophie has done in the short time she’s been at CIANA to create a fulfilling educational environment for our students, both in-person and online.

Thank you Sophie!