Arizona Republic
November 27, 2006

Author: Carol Sowers, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

Four months ago, Francisca Vega of Scottsdale knew almost nothing about her home computer.

"I could send some e-mails," the 49-year-old said.

But now, Vega, from the Mexican port city of Tampico, is learning to unravel the mysteries of Excel, PowerPoint and Microsoft in a unique Rio Salado College computer class taught in Spanish.

"There are other computer classes taught in Spanish but they are short-term," says Miranda Lopez, Rio Salado's director of minority services.

The high-demand Valley-wide Rio Salado classes are a full 16-week semester and taught in collaboration with the prestigious Tecnologico de Monterrey, which educates high-level professionals for the business world at its campuses throughout Mexico.

In the Scottsdale class, instructor Joel Salazar, a civil engineer, drills students in computer basics, building up to Excel, PowerPoint and other Microsoft programs. Costs run about $60.

"This is a good program, because the classes are in Spanish, but the software is in English," he said.

A handful of the 15 students in the non-credit class are nimble in both languages. But some speak almost no English.

The students, including Vega, give up their Friday nights and Saturday mornings to attend the classes at Scottsdale's old Apache School, because they want to be restaurant managers, administrators or bookkeepers, jobs some students left behind in Mexico, Peru or other countries.

Vega, who came to Scottsdale 12 years ago, was caring for an older woman who died recently. Now, she is out of work, but tackling computer classes in hopes of becoming a restaurant manager.

Dora Luz Sanchez, also of Scottsdale, worked in business administration before she left Peru three years ago. She is a live-in housekeeper, and cares for her employer's four children.

But she said they also give her time to run her own housekeeping business in the afternoons.

"And they promised me a job in their business office if I learned the computer," she said.

Israel Lora, 26, left Mexico City five years ago and settled in Tempe.

Like other students, he works more than 50 hours a week, spends another six hours a week in computer class, and 15 more studying English.

The commitment has paid off for Lora.

"I started as a cook," he said. "After I learned English, they made me a manager."

The students are more than classmates. They are friends. They shared an early Thanksgiving dinner last week and celebrated the 25th birthday of Helios Flores, with a fruit-filled birthday cake and presents.

And earlier, the class quietly donated money to buy a computer and printer for 24-year-old Nubia Salazar, trapped in a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis. The home computer allows her to continue her studies on the days she can't get to class.

Flores of Guanajuato, Mexico, works as a bartender's assistant in Scottsdale.

"But there is no opportunity for advancement there," he said. "I want to go to college."

First, he has to obtain his general equivalency diploma, then polish his English and computer skills.

"I know that I have to do more than take these classes," he said. "Success is a process."

Rio Salado's computer classes in Spanish

The college started the non-credit classes in 2004 at two Phoenix locations.
Since then the program has expanded to 250 students Valley-wide. It's goal
is to better prepare the Valley's Hispanic workforce.

New classes start late January. Details in Spanish: (480) 517-8417.

CAPTION: Joel Salazar (right) works with Helios Flores from Scottsdale
during a computer class for Spanish speakers at the Scottsdale Center of Rio
Salado College. The classes are in high demand.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Scottsdale Republic North
Page: 3

Copyright (c) The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the
permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: pho159250992

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