ESL class provides help to non-English speaking Hispanics

Barbara Hootman

The doors of opportunity are beginning to swing open for non-English speaking Hispanic people in the Valley through an English as a Second Language (ESL) class every Friday evening.

There are 4.7 million students in the United States who are classified as “English Language Learners.” The numbers exclude the adults not proficient in English, who can become a forgotten segment of society.

There is more need now than ever before for non-English Hispanic speaking Valley residents to learn English since more and more are calling the area home. The free Friday evening ESL class is a way for English speaking people to make personal contact with the Hispanic community in the Valley.

Susan Murty, a retired ESL teacher, saw the need in the local community for a class and decided to put her education and skills to good use.

“I saw the need and contacted Renae Brame, executive director of the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, and at her suggestion familiarized myself with the ministry’s policies about how to handle people and their needs,” Murty said. “The Latinos who cannot speak English are a little nervous and worried, as we would be if we were in their situation. My Spanish is pretty good since I spent nine months in Mexico in 2004-2005 on a sabbatical. At least they can have a conversation with me. I’m still learning their language so they can view me as a teacher and a friend.”

“ESL class is on outreach program for the ministry,” Brame said. “The class had 17 students the first night. There were lots of children involved. This is another positive step to help those who need our assistance.”

Murty taught and worked with Latino immigrants at the University of Idaho for years. She also was a social worker in Massachusetts. She studied at Washington State University and went to Idaho State for graduate work.

“We had many immigrants that were attracted to Iowa because of the meat packing plants that guaranteed work,” she said. “Also, many were immigrant workers from the tomato fields. Latinos are hard workers and very dependable. They take excellent care of their families, and have strong family values. They are heavy financial contributors to the families that aren’t in the states. “

Murty says she has tapped into her Quaker church, The Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting, for volunteers.

“We will need more volunteers as we grow,” she said. “You don’t even have to speak much Spanish to teach English. Steve and Diana Glass are volunteers who speak Spanish and are a great help. Deanna LaMotte and Claudia Castillo are also volunteers who speak Spanish well and are volunteering at the Friday night class.”

Castillo is a newly arrived Hispanic first-grade teacher at W.D. Williams Elementary who volunteers to help with the Friday evening class at the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry.

“My husband wanted to take the free Friday night English class,” Castillo said. “As a teacher I couldn’t control myself and ended up helping one of the teachers. I offered them my help because that’s my passion. Learning English is important for the people in class because they need it for different purposes.

“Some of them need to speak English to be able to get better job opportunities or because they need to communicate with customers. Also it is important that they be able to help their children with their homework. The main goal is to help them to communicate their thinking through speaking and writing English in any circumstance.”

Deanna LaMotte is another volunteer with the class who speaks Spanish fluently.

“The participants in the ESL class work full time, and take care of their children, family members and neighbors,” she said. “Most don’t have the time, money or flexibility to go into Asheville for a class during the week regardless of how much they want to improve their English.”

The ESL free class meets at 6 p.m. and lasts for about an hour and a half each Friday night at the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry at 101 N. Ridgeway Avenue in Black Mountain. Phone 669-9404 for more information. Childcare and snacks are provided.