Back to school

Well, I guess I don’t go back to school after Labor Day and we don’t have any kids that do but something just seems changed once September hits. Mex has started accelerating his efforts in school in hopes of graduating next June. He still has a lot to learn about US History, Language Arts, Algebra, Economics, American Citizenship and Biology… I anticipate biology to be the hardest with all the long science words. A whole new English vocabulary!

As a foreign-born person who completed school but does not have any university education, Mex is required to take 36 trimesters of US high school courses in order to receive a US diploma (typical high school students take 72, I believe). From my calculations he has about 14 done with about nine months of work so it will be a push to finish the rest by June but I’m confident he can do it. Mex always tells me in a tone of great surprise how many Americans are in his diploma classes. They are mostly younger than 30, either girls who had children in high school or, for the middle-aged men it seems to be ones who were injured at work, lost their job and now have to find a new career where a high school diploma or computer skills are necessary.

I volunteer at the Elk River diploma and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs once a week and have been for two years, starting my third year this month. I greatly admire all the people who attend classes and try to improve their education or their understanding of English. Some nights there are so many students that there are not enough teachers or volunteers to help everyone. One item that is overlooked in the talk about making English the US’s official language is the need for more funding and more volunteers at these ABE/ESL locations. There are students who come only one or two times and then do not come back because they are frustrated with their lack of attention. From June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2008 there were over 250 students who attended classes in Elk River for at least 12 hours. Amazing the need for help. However, there are only one or two teachers who can sign off on assignments and maybe a two or three volunteers who help students with questions during each class time.

Some nights Mex is at school for three hours and does not get a chance to talk to a teacher. At least he has the benefit of a college educated wife and a native English speaker at home to help him with projects. However, there are many things that need to be done in the classroom and only a licensed teacher can actually sign off and give credit for work. Mex gets frustrated when he has things to turn in and is not able to do it. The teachers in Elk River are incredible though. The main teacher’s name is Pam and you can tell she was put on earth to help people. She is friendly and generous and always giving, genuinely concerned about her students and interested in their stories and lives and helping them achieve their goals. However, no matter how wonderful and hard-working someone is it is impossible to handle so many students with so little help!

Most of you who read my blog (about 99.9% of you) are native English speakers. I would encourage you, if you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, maybe you are retired and looking for something to fill part of your days, please consider helping in an ESL classroom or with diploma students. Was school so long ago you are not sure you remember much? That’s ok! Lots of ESL students need help with simple reading and speaking and pronunciation skills. Information for your local ESL/ABE program should be posted in your Community Education Guide or email me and I’ll help you find a program close to you! It is amazingly rewarding to help people who are motivated to learn! Happy volunteering!

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