Breaking the language barrier
USD 232 program designed to give immigrants English comfort level
As questions were read to a group of adults seated around tables in the Lexington Trails Middle School library Monday evening, Bertha Rosales and Marie DeLeon appeared to compete over who could answer first.
"Saturday," Rosales said when the group was asked to name the day two days prior. The correct answer only earned Rosales another question. What, Patsy Beadle asked her, was her favorite day of the week?
"Sunday," Rosales answered with a smile. "That's when I go to church."
The exercise that focused on the days of the week and months of the year was part of an adult education class designed to teach recent basic language skills to parents who moved to De Soto from Mexico with little or no understanding of English, said Lexington Trails English as a Second Language teacher Patsy Beadle.
"My whole reason for wanting to start it was I had a mom come in for a conference," Beadle said. "She started crying. When I asked her why through a translator, she said she felt so horrible because she can't help her child with homework. I thought how bad I would feel if I couldn't help my children. That's what started it. Mama is a universal language."
Rosales is one of about 20 people who regularly attend the once-a-week class. She came, she said, because she wanted to communicate better with her eighth-grade daughter, Lizbeth, and to create opportunities for herself.
Those were the two goals the district's adult ESL classes were designed to meet, said the district's ESL coordinator Debbie Taylor.
"We aren't going to make them fluent through this class," Taylor said. "Our goal is to give them enough English skills to be comfortable when they are shopping, go to the doctor or to the bank. If we can give people some core skills then they can go out and get a job, they'll start picking up the language in multiple settings.
Parents are also provided with materials, tips and instruction on how to help their children become better students, Taylor said. A big part of that effort is encouraging parents to read to their children in the language with which they are most comfortable, she said.
"A lot of our parents don't understand reading to their children in any language is still beneficial," Taylor said.
"Research shows if children learn to read in one language, it makes learning to read in English much easier."
The Monday evening class at Lexington and a Thursday evening class at Starside Elementary school attracted parents, grandparents and young adults, Taylor said. Some of those attending are conversationally adept, while others speak no English, she said.
Alex Jacobo speaks English well enough to act as the interpreter in the Lexington Trails class. A regular since the classes started, Jacobo said he attended to get a better grasp of grammar and spelling.
"I would like to get my GED," he said. "I was an accountant in Mexico. I would like to work with computers and figures. But I have to do something with my English.
"The class has been very helpful. I can see where everyone is improving."
Jacobo has attended the Lexington Trails class since Beadle and Phillips started the program last year. The program changed, however, in its second year, Taylor said. Beadle, Phillips and their aides volunteered their hours last year. The No Child Left Behind education legislation Congress passed last year mandates the district offer adult education and earmarked dollars for programs that previously received no funding.
"They would do it anyway," Taylor said. "The fact that money was made available is a bonus.
"It's been an extremely rewarding activity for those of us who have been doing the teaching. We sit after every class and kind of marvel at the good feelings we have and the appreciation."
The school district was not likely to offer advanced English acquisition classes to the growing number of Hispanic moving to De Soto, Taylor said. Johnson County Community College offered an "excellent" program that filled that function, she said. Unfortunately, few in De Soto take advantage of it.
"I would like to see our parents comfortable enough to go to Johnson County," she said. "Right now, they're not willing to do that.
"We've had discussion about coming out and doing classes in De Soto. They say to offer a variety of classes to the most people, they have to be in a central location rather than spread out."
Jacobo said he would like to take advanced classes but probably won't attend those offered on the Overland Park campus.
"I don't have enough time," he said. "I have a family to support. Right now, I can come in here to pick up my kids. My kids are here the same time I'm here."