Language students go the distance for dreams
By Marie P. Grady
Special to Reminder Publications
It was a ceremony befitting of an Olympic journey.
As the pageantry of the games in Beijing flashed across the screen, a dozen hopefuls from countries across the world imagined achieving another personal best.
This was a game that would not end with a gold medal for those who crossed the finish line first. But it is a pursuit that in many ways takes no less effort and no less resolve.
If they could master it, new doors would be opened.
The athletes in this case are students of a new advanced English as a Second Language class at the Ludlow Area Adult Learning Center, a community program of Holyoke Community College. Their sponsor? The Citizens Bank Foundation, which stepped into the breach of limited governmental funding and provided $10,000 to offer this class.
The new class was launched in August with a screening of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Students in the new class gathered with those in entry level and intermediate classes to begin the next phase of their journey.
For Peter Selin, who emigrated here 19 years ago from Russia, it's been a long time coming. He and his wife raised seven children while he worked in construction. He operated a crane in Russia but needs to learn more English to take the test to operate heavy equipment here.
"There was not enough time to study," he says of the years his children were growing up. "Now they're all right. They have a college education and a good job. Now I have time."
If it weren't for Citizens Bank, students like Selin would not be able to master the language. While students need advanced English classes to master college and climb the career ladder, advanced English classes were lost amid federal funding cuts some years ago.
Citizens Bank first learned of the need for more adult literacy services during a presentation by David Cruise, the former director of the Literacy Works Project for the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. It learned of the pressing need for advanced language classes from Kermit Dunkelberg, director of the Ludlow learning center.
Cheryl Shattuck, branch manager of the bank's downtown Ludlow offices, said the bank sees its contribution as a wise investment.
"Citizens Bank is 100 percent dedicated to the education of our community. It's part of what we call the Citizens Bank credo: customers, colleagues and the community," she said.
While the country remains a melting pot of many cultures and languages, knowledge of the language is essential for those who want to succeed in the workplace and in higher education, she said.
The bank's contribution comes at a time when policy makers and employers are recognizing the need for more language training. Last June, the English Works initiative launched a statewide campaign in Boston calling for more English language learning opportunities for workers. Recently, Suzanne Bump, secretary of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, acknowledged that need in a new report on workforce development priorities.
The new bank-sponsored program is the only one in Greater Springfield filling the gap left by governmental funding cuts. It is a program that needs to be emulated across the state at a time when immigrants and others not proficient in the language are making up an increasing percentage of the workforce.
Ania Jasinska and her husband Marcin Kupidura are among students in the new class taught by Brazilian native Monica Ceccatto. Ania, who is from Poland, has a degree in civil engineering but knows she needs to master the language to advance. Her husband says, "If you learn English, your skills on the job are better. You can communicate."
The class will receive computer instruction from Norma Cabral, who has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Mexico and is herself a graduate of English language courses. Now helping others at the Holyoke job resource center, CareerPoint, she hopes to master the language herself so she can become employed by MassMutual or another large company in Western Massachusetts.
Marineh, a musician from Armenia, wants to learn more English, so she can help her daughter, who is applying for college this year. Serpil Durdu, a native of Turkey, wants to master the language so she can build a better world for her children, including one she is carrying now.
"I want a good education for them," said Durdu, a nurse in her native country. "I don't want to quit from my dreams."
Maria Virgilio, who emigrated from Portugal over three decades ago, was a machine operator for 33 years for the Springfield Wire Co. When she arrived, immigrants did not need to speak the language well to get a decent job to put their children through college.
She is finally getting a chance to take lessons in one of the courses offered at the center. She hopes to be able to communicate better, but she knows the need for lessons is far more pressing for recent newcomers.
"Before, you could find a job and you don't need to speak English," she said. "Now, you need to speak and write it."
Marie P. Grady is liaison for the Literacy Works Project of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden Count Inc. For more information on the program, contact Literacy Entrepreneur Maura Geary at 755-1367 or Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org