Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Language of Work: North Shore Immigrants Translate English Classes into Success

By Muriel Hoffacker
Gordon College News Service
March 31, 2010

When she was 17, Rosa Paulino-Diaz (pictured) moved from the Dominican Republic to Lynn, MA. She knew no English and wasn’t sure what to expect. Mercedes Paulino, Rosa’s 37 year-old single mother, had brought her seven children to the U.S. because she couldn’t find enough work in the Dominican Republic to support their family.  


That was the beginning of Rosa’s language education. She learned to speak English, graduated from Lynn English High in 1986, and earned her citizenship ten years later.  Now at 43, she applies her knowledge in her career as the outreach coordinator to Hispanics for the Lynn Senior Center.

“I feel free when I know what I say and when I understand English,” she said.  “Learning English has made my position in the community 100 percent better.” 

Paulino-Diaz, like many other immigrants on the North Shore, has linked English classes to successful work lives in their new homeland. With over 75 different countries represented in the greater Boston area, many see the demand for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes as a real and growing need.

“I think many people do not realize how many people are represented in our area,” said Sarah Dietrich, ESL Coordinator for the Center for International Education at Salem State College. “Immigrants bring to the North Shore a desire to work hard, to learn and to share their ideas and insights with all they meet.”

Elisabeth Sena-Martin, ESL Teacher at Nettle Middle School in Haverhill, MA, agrees and says most of her students are especially determined. 

“I think many ESL students work twice as hard as their native counterparts,” said Sena-Martin.  “To leave the comfort of your home country and move to another place and then find work, learn a new language, make a new community and live with people who are completely different, that’s a lot of work!”

Danielle Gehman, English as a Second Language teacher at KIPP Academy in Lynn, MA, says many North Shore residents might not realize how many immigrant communities are here unless you intentionally sought them out.

“The American dream is much more alive in the immigrants I’ve met than the citizens who have a long history in this country,” said Gehman. “Maybe it has to be that way, to some extent, but I find their gratitude is more refreshing than jaded, and easier to find in an ESL classroom than a college lecture hall.”

Despite the changing naturalization laws, the battle against the struggling economy and increasing tensions with stereotypes, many immigrants also find ESL classes a way to connect with their neighbors.

“I have a good relationship in the community,” said Paulino-Diaz. “You work like a machine but I don’t feel that I sacrificed anything because all my family is here and this is the better life that I can give my kids.”   

Paulino-Diaz works long hours to help her husband of 24 years support their two girls, Crisniel, 22, and Katherine, 14, and help Crisniel through college at Salem State.  In addition to her work at the Lynn Senior Center, she’s taken a part-time job as a nursing assistant at Brooksby Village in Danvers and still makes time to take additional English classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights at KIPP Academy to improve her writing skills.

 “When they [ESL students] get here, they often put every penny they have towards supporting themselves and paying for tuition and books,” said Dietrich.  “They spend hours working to accomplish their goals.”

Dietrich said one student from Burkina Faso in West Africa told her that he had to work so many hours to pay for his classes that the only time he had to open and read his math book was when he was in class, yet he still received A’s and B’s in many of his courses.

ESL classes seem to ensure both academic and professional success for many immigrants. Dietrich also said that one of her students from China was honored at a reception for his 3.8 Grade Point Average.  She also said that a student from Senegal who started in her beginning level ESL class completed an MBA at Salem State; two other students—one from Turkey and the other from Thailand—met in the ESL program have since opened their own pizza shop on the North Shore.

After all, as Paulino-Diaz said, “Knowledge is the power for anybody.”

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