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Language for Life

Language for Life

Editor’s Note: Each Tuesday through the end of the school year, the Summit Daily News will present a story about the challenges and successes of the English as a Second Language program and diversity in the Summit School District and surrounding community.

BRECKENRIDGE – It’s a courageous step just to show up for registration, and their furtive glances hint at wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

While their children have a few short days left in the school year, hundreds of immigrant parents are continuing their education through the summer by enrolling in Colorado Mountain College English as a Second Language classes. Originally from the Ukraine, Vladyslav Chyzhykov brought his wife and daughter to CMC’s Breckenridge campus Monday night to get his English learning started.

“We have lived here seven months,” Nataliya Chyzhykov said. “And before that, seven months in North Carolina. We want to become citizens.”

Carianne Pitts teaches third grade at Upper Blue Elementary School by day. One night a week she also teaches adults, putting her master’s degree in bilingual special education to use. At the registration event, Pitts tested prospective students to place them in the appropriate level classes.

Pitts said the program emphasizes intergenerational learning – it’s not uncommon to find a grandparent in the class or a child playing in the back of the room.

“Each semester is different,” Pitts said. “In the spring, a lot drop out when the season is over – resort jobs disappear. It’s hard to retain people, too. They have a couple jobs, transportation and child care become an issue.”

Before the evening was over, teachers convinced Nataliya Chyzhykov to register for ESL along with her husband, and to bring along 4 1/2-year-old Olha for the exposure.

“I studied English five years, but only reading and writing,” she said. “No practice. That’s what I need, practice.”

CMC began offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in the 1980s, after college directors identified a need in the local workplace. The program has evolved into a year-round service, teaching as many as 300 students at classes in Breckenridge, Silverthorne and Keystone and employs 27 part-time instructors. The college pays for the program through state and federal Department of Labor grants and classes are free to students.

Linda Kaumeyer began volunteering with ESL classes five years ago and went back to school to earn a master’s degree in the field. “I loved it and thought, I could do this,” Kaumeyer said. The instructor said she focuses students on “survival” language skills: Students learn job-specific English, how to call the doctor and make an appointment or how to deal with their child’s teacher.

“The students tell us their goals and needs – it’s all skills based,” Kaumeyer said. “That’s fun. You’re hitting what they want. And, it works both ways.”

Businesses often request help from the ESL staff, scheduling English and Spanish sessions for employees. In addition, CMC this summer will offer job vocabulary Spanish classes for employers whose workers often have limited English abilities, such as construction trades.

“Another component is teaching culture, the idioms and expressions,” Kaumeyer said. “They work around people and they hear things – it’s not in their textbook, it’s not even correct. But it’s English and we try to teach it, too.”

Students and teachers said they develop a special relationship through the experience. The students describe their instructors as caring, helpful and interested in their lives. The teachers said they often give students a ride home after class, knowing that transportation problems may keep a student from attending. The teachers’ reward is watching the students progress.

“I know it sounds trite, but it’s rewarding,” Kaumeyer said. “You watch them solve the mystery of the language – you can see it in their faces.”

Like the Summit School District program, the college’s ESL has its challenges. Because the funding for classes and teachers comes from government grants, the college must maintain mountains of paperwork. “There’s a lot of bureaucracy for teachers, tracking of the students,” Pitts said. “We have to fill out a five-page report on each of them.”

Retention is another issue. Teachers and college administrators are looking for ways to get students in the class and keep them there, but have job and family pressures working against them. Even though the class is only three hours once a week, it can seem like too much for a parent who’s already put in a full day of work.

“And some sign up with unrealistic expectations,” Kaumeyer said. “They realize it takes work, or they’re expecting lectures – because that’s what they had at home – and they’re not used to cooperative learning (working in groups). Sometimes they’re surprised learning English can be fun.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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