The bell rings through the corridors of Branciforte Middle School as flocks of students pour out of classrooms, lugging their backpacks. Most are exhausted and eager to get home.

But some stick around, shuffling to the school library where the UC Santa Cruz student mentors of Corre La Voz (CLV) greet them.

As check-ins begin, the students’ weary faces come to life. Laughter fills the room, and fatigue melts into comfortable familiarity. In conversation, the students and mentors switch seamlessly from English to Spanish.

Since 2009, the CLV dual-language service learning program has provided elementary and middle school students with a space to connect with undergraduate mentors from UC Santa Cruz.

However, as Oakes College has scaled back the program since fall 2022, the program’s ability to provide this space has become limited.

“We’re finally coming out of the pandemic and we’re finally in a position to start adapting, changing, problem-solving, and thinking into the future,” said CLV Director Dr. Leslie López. “This is not the time to cut off the foundation.”

Since 2014, CLV was offered as OAKS 151A/B in fall, winter, and spring quarters for UCSC students, consisting of a seminar (151A) and field study (151B) component.

In late summer 2022, members of CLV were notified that Oakes College would be cutting the fall quarter course offering. In winter quarter 2023, CLV received another notice that Oakes would be cutting the winter course.

“We only get one day, two hours a week with them. That’s already a really short amount of time,” said student mentor Yamileth Sanchez. “[Cutting back the program] might alter the way that they get comfortable with us and the work that we actually get done.”

In an interview over email with City on a Hill Press (CHP), Oakes Provost Marcia Ochoa explained the justification for paring down the course.

Dr. Ochoa noted the curriculum plan for the 2023-2024 academic year has not yet been finalized, but that Oakes will “offer one quarter of OAKS 151A/B next year.”

“Since OAKS 151A/B was offered three times per year and was regularly running at less than half capacity for a number of years, I decided to reduce the number of offerings, but the course will still be part of our curriculum and students will still have a chance to take it,” wrote Dr. Ochoa.

In further correspondence with CHP, Dr. Ochoa clarified that low enrollment was the only factor leading to the cuts.

“[CLV isn’t] too small because it’s failing. It’s too small because it’s not invested in,” López said. “To eliminate it would basically throw away fourteen years of creation, of curriculum, of approaches, of relationships, of achievements without passing it on.”

The CLV course and program were originally offered as an independent study in the Education Department. Since its inception, the program has been funded by a $25,000 University- Community (UC) Links Grant.

In 2014, the course and program were relocated to Oakes College. CLV became the pillar of the college’s new service learning program, Community-based Action Research and Advocacy (CARA). The UC Links Grant was also then housed by Oakes College.

Oakes College notified CLV in 2020 that they would no longer be housing the UC Links Grant. The grant was moved back to the Education Department, with López and Dr. Cynthia Lewis acting as Principal Investigator and Co-Principal Investigator on the grant.

With all of these changes, mentors wonder how the program will be able to continue supporting underserved students. Student mentor Elizabeth Peña Sanchez said that she’s not sure what the program would look like if it was condensed to just one quarter.

“I feel like already a lot of [the program] was lost because they took a quarter off,” said Peña Sanchez. “I feel like [spring quarter] is really rushed. […] It kind of takes away some fun and impactful aspects of [Corre La Voz].”

98 to 99 percent of elementary and middle school youth in the CLV are Latine. Many are first-generation students, or English learners from predominantly Spanish-speaking immigrant households.

According to a 2023 equity analysis on OAKS 151A/B, more than half of the students in CLV do not speak English as their first language.

“The program benefits the kids because it makes their identities feel seen. Some of them aren’t really comfortable speaking English,” Sanchez said. “It’s nice knowing that they have a space where they’re allowed to be themselves and speak the language that they’re comfortable with.”

For mentors, the emotional support they provide to students is just as important as any academic benefits.

“I know what it feels like to not have somebody at that age when you need them the most,” Sanchez said. “We’re here to help them and we’re here to create a space where [students] can be vulnerable around us.”

At the end of their weekly session, the CLV students closed their laptops and said goodbye to their friends and mentors, eager to continue working on their projects next week. Yet, once Branciforte’s school year ends and spring quarter comes to a close for undergraduates, students could be waiting until January of next year to re-enter the space.

The future of CLV remains dependent on the university’s capacity to support the program and make the changes necessary to ensure its longevity.

“Does it need to change? Yes. We’re there for the change,” López said. “We would love to see more people at the table. The question is, where is the table?”

Joss Borys, Mylah Ellis, Daniella Fajardo, and Ali Noia contributed additional reporting.