North Auburn English classes offering new Americans new opportunities

Communication with both children and in the community seen as key reasons for taking classes
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A new class in North Auburn is throwing non-English speakers a language lifeline – with homework. Since September, a formerly unused classroom in a portable at Rock Creek Elementary School has welcomed newcomers to the Auburn area and the United States a chance to learn English. In North Auburn, the number of non-English speakers has been growing and that has been most prominently seen at Rock Creek School. School records show that about 60 percent of the school’s student population of 335 has parents whose primary language is not English. The languages spoken at home include Cantonese, Tagalog, Punjabi and Urdu, but the predominant spoken language is Spanish. The Unitarian Universalists’ Justice Council and the Latino Leadership Council helped identify the need and retired teachers Carol Darlington and Artella Hughes started classes last fall. The demand has been so great that there are now three classes weekly, with approximately 80 students. Elisa Herrera, coordinator of the Latino Leadership Council, said the classes are filled with people who have wanted to learn English but haven’t had an opportunity like the one now available at the Rock Creek classroom. Classes are during the day and night to allow different times for different work shifts. “Thank God for these volunteers,” Herrera said. “We asked the community what they wanted and they told us, and these people figured out a way to make it happen.” On Tuesday, a class of a dozen students was learning the nuances of an English language that turns the Spanish word “amarillo” into “yellow.” Teachers explained that “yellow” in English was not the similar-sounding word in Spanish that means “ice” and that the pronunciation of the English word was not “jel-lo,” which means something else. During 1½ hours, the adults taking the class were provided with chances to hone their language skills in role-playing games using English-only, learn how prepositions like “below,” “behind” and “between” color speech and sang songs. “This land was made for you and me,” they sang together with teachers and volunteers. There were books to check out at the end of classes for students to read with their children and a stack of magazines for reading. The classes have received donations from the Latino Leadership Council and the Auburn Association of University Women, while Rock Creek School provides use of the classroom free of charge. Darlington said donations of time, money and materials are welcomed. For more information on taking classes or helping, contact Rock Creek School. Students were enthusiastic and thankful for a chance to learn a language that many see as a key to success in their new country. “It helps you help your children and it’s family time,” Hughes said. In the next few weeks before classes end for the summer, they’ll be studying about what to say during emergencies and some of the English words for different foods. Rosalba De Pinon said she needs to keep up with her more fluent children. “And at work, you can pick it up but not so correctly,” she said, through a translator. Erasmo Ochoa said the English class had made her more confident. “Sometimes my daughter is helping me but I’m finding I can help her back,” Ochoa said. “I’m trying to get ready for the time that I will help her in high school and college.” Hughes, a retired high-school English teacher, said she’s already seeing results in the community. One woman has been promoted to work at the counter at an eatery because her English skills are improving. Another could successfully communicate with school officials in English when her daughter had to be late because of a medical appointment. “At the bank, I saw two of our students and they were communicating with the teller,” Hughes said “I asked if they needed help and she said ‘no, thank you, I can do it’ I don’t know if they would have felt that same confidence before our class.”