In the Spotlight

News & Features
You Said What?
By Cara Hetland
May 4, 1999
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Communities and schools provide education programs so immigrants and their families can learn English. These programs are changing as educators learn better ways to teach English as a second language. Seven years ago in Worthington, there was typically one student of color in a classroom. Today, nearly half the class is minority.

While the new residents learn a new language and culture, Some feel there should be lessons in tolerance for the rest of the town.

JERELYNE NEMANICH PLAYS A MATH GAME with her 24 first-grade students. Carlos Cazares stands at the chalk board competing with 3 classmates to see who can solve the addition problem first. The winning team gets crackers. The seven-year old, dark hair and dark eyed Carlos is among half the class who speak a language other than English. Carlos says math is okay but he would rather write stories about his family - especially his father.

Cazares: He plays with me and he takes me to the Pizza Hut.
Carlos and his family moved to Worthington three years ago from Mexico. None of them could speak or comprehend English. Carlos now works at advanced levels in his English as a Second Language or ESL class. He understands his teacher, can read and write in English, and can converse with other English-speaking kids.

One-third of the students at Worthington's Central elementary school are students of color. They speak eight languages. ESL teacher Amy Trksak encourages families to continue speaking native languages at home and not try to help teach English.
Trksak: Because otherwise the younger kids you do have at home will grow up speaking broken English, and then it's really hard to teach them to speak English correctly and they may end up speaking broken English the rest of their life.
Trksak and other ESL experts encourage families to practice words together but it's more important to be literate in their own language first. This is very different from ESL education of 20 years ago. Veteran teacher Connie Evans says English as a second language has evolved because the type of student is changing. Many can speak their native language but are not literate.
Evans: We're seeing a different type of student coming to us. Not only language-delayed, but other social and emotional concerns. The progress the child makes in school is not necessarily because of the language, but because of other factors surrounding that. It could be the home influence. Many of them are separated from their families. It could be they have not had a lot of basic-language learning in their first language.
Luz Cazares is concerned her younger children like Carlos are starting to use more English than their native Spanish. She says it's difficult for them to communicate with their father who works full-time and has not learned any English.

Luz says her family must learn English to survive. She spends several days a week on language instruction. It's a class designed for adults to practice conversational skills by talking about their lives and experiences.

The class also acts as a support group for Worthington's newest residents to talk about their experiences at local stores and clinics. Luz says as she learns for herself, she wants to help others.
Luz: Because I like to help my children with homework. I like to help some of my friends who don't speak English because they have to work the whole day and they need to go someplace where they don't speak Spanish.
The petite 35-year old mother of four has long dark hair and a nervous giggle. She's quick to point out all the positives of life in rural Minnesota. She prefers small-town living, and doesn't want to criticize the people of the town she calls home. Some people are nice and some are not. A problem she tries to solve herself.
Luz: Yes, I have problem but I try to learn more everyday. If I have to go to school, I try to study more words that we have to use in the school. If I have to go to the clinic, I have to read more clinic words, so I know what I have to say in the clinic. I have to study everyday different things, different words because if I have to use different words everyday, I have to study.
Sue Salzwedel teaches ESL classes for adults. She says Luz has a healthy attitude, but she would prefer more tolerance in town.
Salzwedel: I think that training needs to be done in the community. That's what I think. To understand it's just basically people skills is what it boils down to. I don't see it happening but I would like to see it happen.
Teaching tolerance is subtle business in Worthington, Minnesota. The mayor has developed a welcoming program for new immigrants and translation services are available. There's an annual cultural event for residents to learn about different cultures. Even in the schools, posters decorate the walls with poems stressing similarities - not differences - and saying "You're the one who can make the peace. "

Keeping the peace is a difficult lesson for 16-year old Luis Cazares, the oldest child in the Cazares family. He's in eighth grade at Worthington Jr. High School. At first glance in this gym class, he fits right in playing volleyball. But he's been suspended three times this year for fighting.
Luis: One boy come and push me into the locker and he hit me right here and I turn around and we fight. The teachers come and get me and I get suspended for three days.
Luis says it's tough being different. He sticks close with other Mexican students - a self segregated group. Part of that is survival, part of it is the adolescent pain of junior high and part of it is the fear of making a mistake with their English.

It's easier for the younger kids to adapt as they grow up in a mixed society. Mistakes are more easily overcome, and kids are eager to learn and in turn help their parents and older siblings.

A newly-developed program, "Even Start," is federally funded. It teaches literacy to parents and pre-school children. This is the first year for the program in Worthington. The primary goal is language instruction, with some focus on parenting skills. The children in the room are eager to show off their English.

The programs in Worthington are free to families and they are well-attended. It's a sign that the city's new immigrant population wants to learn, which some say shows a commitment by the immigrants to wanting to fit in. It also shows a commitment by the community leaders that they are welcome in Worthington.