ELL class helps immigrants in Westonka

By Lorrie Ham
While most Westonka students go to school eager to learn every day, perhaps some of the most enthusiastic learners are the six adult students currently enrolled in the district’s English Language Learners (ELL) class. These students spend two to three hours every Monday night practicing their English, learning how to type, studying for citizenship exams and becoming friends. The current class, which is offered through the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, is made up of students representing Russia, China, Thailand, Honduras and Mexico.

Classes meet at the Western Communities Action Network (WeCAN) office in Mound. The central location is critical since transportation can be an issue. One student walks two miles to class and back home each week. All of the students are employed except for one, who is retired.

“Attendance is fantastic,” Teacher Susan Anderson said. “Most students arrive early and don’t leave until we close.”

Anderson previously taught English at Hutchinson High School for 29 years. Not quite ready to accept retirement, she began teaching part-time in the ESL/GED classroom at Ridgewater College before coming to Westonka four years ago. She said that she enjoys every part of teaching ELL students.

“I learn as much from them as I hope they learn from our class,” said Anderson. “Because my current students represent different countries, our discussions are a true learning experience.”

A typical night of class includes writing sentences on the boards on that night’s topic, reading aloud together from a fiction or non-fiction story or article, practicing English pronunciation and working on grammar. The students also use computers to learn keyboarding skills, use Rosetta Stone language-learning software and study for citizenship exams. While class size can vary, the Westonka group is stable, with some students staying in the program for two or three years.

The weekly group conversations sometimes focus on current events or on other fun things. One week, the students brought in their favorite foods to share and discovered the wonderful tastes of five different countries. The students are happy to have the opportunity to learn and have become friends in the process.

Victor Andrev, the only male in the group, moved with his wife to Mound from Russia four years ago after their son married an American citizen. He works hard on his English and enjoys fishing on Lake Minnetonka.

Bowen Cao, from China, is an au pair who enjoys teaching Chinese to her young charges and playing with them. She is happy to make so many friends in English class and she says she “loves” her teacher.

Nelly Rivera is a native of Honduras. She has two daughters, one of whom is studying to be an engineer. She works in childcare and says she likes living in Wayzata, even though it’s cold.

Although Mexico is her native country, Antonia Santiago has lived here for 12 years. She has two daughters and enjoys going to work every day.

Tatiya Geyen of Thailand moved to the area four years ago after marrying an American man following a two-year courtship.

“One of the best things about teaching ELL is watching how the students help each other to understand, how accepting they are of each other, and how they laugh and work together,” said Anderson.

About Adult Basic Education
Westonka Community Education and Services is a member of the WEST ABE Consortium (www.westabe.org). Free Adult Basic Education and English Language Learner classes are ongoing. All classes are held at WeCAN, 5213 Shoreline Drive in Mound, on Mondays, 5:30 to 8 p.m. ABE programs have ongoing enrollment. Please call to schedule an appointment; (952) 491-8029.

English Language Learner

English Language Learner (ELL) classes help students improve their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. Students may join at any time throughout the year. Multi-levels are offered in a small, friendly, group environment. Classes and materials are free.