Summer ELL class hones skills
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 1, 2006

Eugene Mulero

Tim Brethauer scrawled the words "empowered," "citizenship" and "knowledge"
on the dry-erase board.

The day's lesson during this summer session class was on American colonialism, free-market capitalism and freedom of speech - themes that hit home for these more than two-dozen students, who are honing their English skills while learning about what makes their adopted country tick.

These Chandler high school students aren't only from Mexico. They also hail from countries like Brazil, China, Pakistan and Iran. That diversity helps the students see the role communication plays in achieving their goals. "We used to have predominantly Hispanic students, now they come from many different places," said Norma Tarango, who has coordinated the Chandler Unified School District's ELL program for the past eight years. Throughout that time, she has stressed to students the benefits of mastering English.

Students in Brethauer's U.S. government and economics class said they came to the summer ELL program, which wrapped up Friday, to come a step closer to achieving certain career goals and demystify cultural stereotypes about immigrants.

"It's not good to generalize people. Politics come from people's understandings of their surroundings," said Eric DaSilva, a soon-to-be senior at Chandler High School who is from Brazil.

"I want to be someone," he said. "That's why I'm here studying this language and culture."

His peers chimed in with their interpretations of politics, each of which was seen through the lens of experiences in their home countries. Many moved here with their parents, who found jobs in Chandler's growing economy.

Mirta Lucero said she enrolled in the program to improve her English and use those skills in pursuing her goals. Originally from Mexico, she said she plans to go into business management after high school and college.

"We learn how to make business decisions and how we benefit from them,"
Lucero said of the summer program.

Brenda Ramos, another ELL teacher this summer at Chandler High School, said she's confident her students will improve their language skills, an important step to help them do well on state testing.

"These students are more interactive and they exceeded my expectations,"
Ramos said.

The summer curriculum focused on basic communication skills in English. More than 154,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and many are struggling to learn English.

The situation is believed to be a main factor in Arizona's high dropout rate.