01/06/05 — Program helps Hispanic parents learn English

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Program helps Hispanic parents learn English

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 6, 2005 2:01 PM

Martha Patricia Ibarra and her husband moved 10 years ago to Wayne County from Mexico for a better life.

The couple send money back home to support their family, which includes two children, 15 and 17, whom they haven't seen since leaving.

In that time, they have struggled with speaking English. Mrs. Ibarra said she has wanted to learn the language but hasn't been able to.

That was before a new program opened at Brogden Primary School -- for parents. Now, Mrs. Ibarra and several other women are learning the language of their new country.

Gaspar Gonzalez, who taught English-as-a-second-language classes at Wayne Community College for six years, saw a need for more programs.

He approached Brogden Principal Wendy Hooks before the school year, offering to work with anyone interested in learning the language.

The timing was perfect, Ms. Hooks said.

"We had just had a Hispanic family informational night," she said. "We had 150 parents and students show up."

As a rule, she said, response from the Hispanic population has been very high.

"We have parents who are so supportive of our programs," she said. "They want to know how to support their children the best they can."

She said that offering the free class at the school has also helped.

"I think they have come because they want to learn, but they also feel it's a safe haven," she said. "It's their children's school, it's a very familiar atmosphere to them.

"I'm glad that they have felt comfortable coming and being a part of the school day."

Since the classes began in September, word of mouth has helped the number to grow from a half-dozen to an average of 20 students.

Students include Rosa Isela Vasquez from Mexico, who came to the United States in 1993. She met her husband here, and they now have two children, 5 and 8. Norma Sanchez arrived from Mexico in 1994. She has two children, ages 7 and 14. Claudia Rodriguez Cortez is the mother of three girls -- ages 8, 7, and a newborn. And, Maribela Sanchez from Guatemala also has two small children, ages 4 years old and 18 months old.

Gonzalez uses a variety of teaching methods, from workbooks to assignments practicing writing and speaking English. The students take classes three days a week.

"The majority of these ladies do have some knowledge of grammar," he said. "I try to spend two or three minutes with each one, and at the end, everybody has to answer some questions."

He admits it is not an easy task learning English, so he also works to build the students' confidence.

"I'm trying to give them a chance to express themselves," he said. "Even if it's not completely correct, to help them talk to people and be understood.

"Most of them are unsure and are afraid to make a mistake in front of others."

He will often have them read aloud, repeat words after him, and encourage them to practice in front of a mirror at home. He also tells them to practice asking for items in English when shopping.

Gonzalez teaches the classes without pay and said his employer, Eastpointe public mental health agency, has given him the time off to meet the need. He said he hopes the classes will continue beyond this school year and that the community will also lend support.

"We have had several schools ask us to go there," he said, "but we're unable to go to all the schools because of time.

"After we get this one really going, we would like to see if the school system can get retired teachers to come in and teach, even if they don't know Spanish. We're also trying to work through the churches to offer classes."

Ms. Hooks said she would like to see employers of the Hispanic population get on board, encouraging the employees to take advantage of English classes.

Gonzalez is also trying to train others to teach the classes. He is currently grooming one of the women in the class for the role.

Suzy Altamirano is from Mexico, where she was a kindergarten teacher. Her husband moved here in 2000 and she came soon after. She does not have the needed credentials to teach in this country, but Gonzalez hopes to utilize her skills in teaching others the language she is now learning.

The classes are having a positive affect on the school and surrounding community, Ms. Hooks said.

Denise Wall, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Brogden, said with 154 students enrolled, it has been a challenge seeing the children learning while lacking help at home.

"As our parents learn, they are getting more interested in what their children are doing in the class," she said. "They are then able to help their children better."

Second grade teacher Tameka Allen has six ESL students in her class. She says she does a lot of "pairing up" of children and encourages them to work together in translating.

"It helps when we try to learn their language as well," she said.

Ms. Allen said the ultimate goal is to seek grants for other programs to help bridge the gap between students and parents. Parents like Gloria Rivera.