Sally Krutzig, News Editor
The drinking fountains are two feet off the ground. There is a rainbow painted on the wall. A sign drawn in red crayon reads, “Go Timber Wolves!” This is Jackie May Townsell Elementary, a building made for children. But every Tuesday night, it becomes a place of hope for their parents.
“It all began when a little girl in my class came up to me and said her parents didn’t speak English, so she couldn’t get help with her homework,” explained Andrea Jauregui, a senior education major.
Jauregui realized that this situation was not unique at the elementary school where she student-taught. Many students faced the same problem. As difficult as it was for the children, however, their parents were the ones most affected by the language barrier. Jauregui decided to do something about it.
“I wanted to start a night class to teach them English,” she said.
Finding support was not easy.
“The first teacher I spoke to didn’t think the parents would have the time,” Jauregui said.
But eventually, the principal and teachers warmed up to the idea. Jauregui began the program ABLE, or Adult Basic Literacy and English, which teaches adults that they are able to learn English.
After the elementary school approved the class, Jauregui and seven other recruited UD students sat in the cafeteria, uncertainly awaiting their first students.
“I thought maybe 30 parents would come,” she said.
82 showed up.
“It was insane,” said Jauregui.
Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents of students arrived over the course of the evening, all longing to learn the language.
Some only sought help polishing up their accents or improving their grammar. Others gave blank stares when first asked their names. But they all had a reason for showing up that night.
“I hope to get a better job,” said one man.
“I want to understand what my children say to one another,” said another in Spanish.
Every Monday since the first class several months ago, the UD students have met to teach. One day, Juaregui began class with a Michael Bublé song before moving on to quiz the students on the last week’s lesson. Though the students take tests and have homework, there are no grades. The students are motivated entirely by their desire to learn.
“Teaching ESL is amazing because my students really want to be able to fit in with American culture, and by helping them with English, I’m allowing them to do that,” said junior Therese Trinko. “My first class this semester, I asked all my students why they wanted to learn English, and almost everyone’s response was, ‘Because I need to.’”
Teaching English is not the only thing these UD students do. Another important facet of the program is its daycare. Part of the reason some of these parents did not take language classes before is that there was nowhere for their children to go. At Townsell, they can leave them under the supervision of UD students. The children make crafts, read stories and play games.
“Sometimes we have 40 kids running around,” said Jauregui.
With so many children and parents, the small group of UD students sometimes finds itself spread thin.
“If we had more volunteers, we could set up smaller classrooms to work with the adults more closely,” said Jauregui. She hopes more students who wish to help will contact her.
The teachers are run-of-the-mill UD students. Three are education majors; the rest find it strange to be instructors after having been students for so many years. This lack of experience means the teachers are not always quite sure where they are going.
“You want to go left, right?” asked senior Maggie Boylan, attempting to teach directions as the rest of the class laughed.
Yet perhaps the attempt is enough.