IBA’s commitment to high quality education for everyone has always been an organizational priority. Now more than ever, as schools operate remotely due to the pandemic, it is crucial to ensure that all students have the resources they need to thrive academically. In order to support students during this unique school year, IBA joined with other community organizations to create learning pods to provide academic support to students and families who need it. Learning pods are smaller groups of students who work with a qualified staff member who supports student learning and academic achievement during this uniquely challenging time when many schools are operating remotely. Supporting our youth academically and providing academic continuity is crucial to preventing achievement gaps. These learning pods also offer a safe space that fosters social-emotional support.

Meet IBA’s new Youth Coordinator, Nalitza Valentín, who joined the team to support this academic initiative.

Welcome to IBA Nalitza, we’re very happy to have you on board. Can you tell our audience a little bit about your background?

I’m a long time Villa Victoria Resident, this is where I grew up and actually my first job was at IBA (participating in what is now known as IBA Youth Development Program), and I worked in the organization until I was 18. I then went to college and got my Bachelor’s in English and Philosophy. Out of school I got into education and have been doing so for over a year now. Full circle and back to my first job ... happy all the pieces fell back together.

Partnering with YMCA, we are offering learning pod participation to high school students of Villa Victoria. Could you tell us about what this program is about, who will be eligible to participate, and your role in it?

I’m a Youth Development Coordinator for a total of 13 young adults ranging from 14 to 17, although we do serve 18-year olds. The proper name is remote educator, and I’m part of the YDP (Youth Development Program) in the area called “Virtual Learning Pods”. We focus on academics and make sure students level up to either get into the next grade or bump up their current grades.

I see students Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3pm - 5 pm -2 hours 4 days out of the week, and Wednesdays are when I see them one-on-one. Essentially the opportunities that the Learning Pods are giving to the community are one-on-one tutoring but also one-on-one social-emotional support (through enrichment activities). It helps families in the sense that if there are any educational barriers because everything is online now, language barriers, or even just a time barrier because parents have to go out to work and they cannot know if their kids are as engaged in school as they should be, that’s what I’m here for. I’m the person they can lean on and IBA is the organization the community can lean on when they need support. In addition, youth get paid for their time as an engagement incentive and foster employment soft skills. Keeping youth engaged over a computer for more than 2 hours is not an easy task, when they really want to socialize and engage in active learning.

What led you to get involved with our organization?

I’ve always felt involved with IBA because I was raised here. I’m a byproduct of IBA’s resources. IBA gave me these resources, and when I was younger I was using them. Even after 17 I would always go to the Art Gallery because I’ve always liked art. I feel like l’ve always been involved, but now I’m more intimately involved since I’m a part of it. Since they've been a resource to me it only makes sense to come back and now be a resource to others.

What kind of opportunities will these learning pods provide to our community?

They’re getting one-on-one tutoring sessions with me, they’re getting Social Emotional activities, we’re doing a lot of activities to get to know oneself. 14-17 is really big on identity, how you identify, what are your likes and dislikes. Is it ok to be yourself and be different from other people, especially in that age range. We’re providing a safe space where you can be yourself while focusing also on the academic aspect of things since that’s part of their future and it’s important for these young adults especially in this chaotic and very confusing time. These pods are an opportunity for IBA’s staff, teachers, and parents to all come together as part of a team to help support youth’s academic progress.

How do you identify with IBA’s mission and how will that mission be presented through this new initiative?

IBA’s mission is to improve the life of people in their communities and I think this initiative, these learning pods, are improving the lives of young adults in our communities. Right now, especially with remote learning, there are a lot of failures happening academically. IBA saw a problem and here they are creating a program to fix it and I feel l fit right in because I am a byproduct of IBA’s mission, I was that kid. One of my fondest memories is going into nature because as a city kid, you don’t go out into nature. That’s a problem they saw and they were able to solve it through their resources. Now there is a problem with education and kids not learning, so they’re creating a program to solve that. I feel very involved in their mission because they’ve impacted me and now I’m a resource to the community...and that’s awesome. I’m the clear example of IBA’s success.

Although this support is for high school students, onsite support for elementary & middle school is also available.

If you or someone you know would like their child to participate in IBA’s community Learning pods, please contact our Youth Development Director, Pedro Cruz, at