Illinois: Parishes respond to call for removing language barriers

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Sep 8 12:45:12 UTC 2006

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Parishes respond to call for removing language barriers

Posted Wednesday, September 6, 2006


Leticia Eclavea, a parishioner at St. Matthew Parish in Glendale Heights,
recently recalled how she got started in a ministry that has helped
hundreds of immigrant children and adults acclimate to America society.
During a telephone conversation with the Catholic Explorer, she explained
she was in the process of enrolling her nephews into an elementary school
in Glendale Heights in 1978 when she discovered a need for some language
translation and education, due to the fact that her nephewsnatives of the
Philippinesonly spoke a Filipino dialect. At the time, Eclavea had a good
command of the English language since she spoke English in her childhood
home in the Philippines and had been living and working in the country
since the 1960s. So Glendale Heights School District 16 asked her to
assist her nephews and a few other students in learning English at the

The request led to almost three decades of teaching English as a Second
Language to dozens of students in kindergarten through third grade at Glen
Hill Primary School in Glendale Heights. Eclavea, who had already earned a
bachelors degree in education in the Philippines, went on to earn a
masters degree in curriculum and took instructional ESL as a minor from
National Louis University. After teaching children in the school system
for many years, Eclavea detected a trend. There was a growing disparity
between parents and their children. The children were learning English at
school and refusing to speak their native language at home because they
wanted to fit in with their English-speaking friends. On the other side,
parents did not understand their children or the notes sent home from
school because they had not had the opportunity to learn English.

Her observation led to the start of a ministry of ESL classes for adults
at St. Matthew Parish in Glendale Heights. Seven years later, the program
attracts about 40 students each year; the 90-minute adult classes coincide
with the religious education schedule for children, making it convenient
for parents to attend ESL classes during that time. Understanding that it
takes adults three to five years to pick up on conversational English and
five to 10 years to reach cognitive ability in the language, Eclavea said
the curriculum of ESL is based on learning language that is practical in
everyday life. While some students of the program have gone on to earn
General Education Development certificates, others have been grateful
simply for the ability to read their childs homework, said Eclavea,
coordinator of the English as a Second Language at the west suburban

Sharing her vast knowledge on offering ESL classes in a faith community
setting, Eclavea said she assisted St. Mary Parish in West Chicago and St.
Isidore Parish in Bloomingdale in starting their own programs. Now in its
fourth year, the ESL program at St. Mary Parish in West Chicago is
experiencing a drop in numbers this yearwith only 30 studentsbut it still
fills a vital need in the parish that has a significant Spanish-speaking
Hispanic population, said Mary Nelis, coordinator of the program. The
faith community, in which 70 percent of its members are Hispanic, offers
five Spanish-speaking Masses and only four English-speaking Mass every

The ESL classes that are presented on Tuesdays and Saturdays provide
students two different opportunities to attend 90-minute sessions that
utilize the Laubach method, explained Nelis. Frank Laubach, inventor of
the curriculum, created a program that uses illustrations, phonics and
vocabulary within context to assist learners while working through four
resource books. Not only do the students acquire self-confidence and new
skills, but the tutors do as well, added Nelis. The 84-year-old volunteer,
who taught ESL for almost a decade while living in Arkansas, said tutors
enjoy their own paycheck in the form of letters of gratitude from former
students, a glimpse of the GED certificate earned by graduates of the
program or U.S.  citizenship documentation made possible through newly
acquired literacy skills. She said, It makes me feel 10 feet tall.

The satisfaction tutors receive and the rewards the students earn are
worthwhile, but the program is headed for an uncertain future,
acknowledged Nelis. She said the program is beyond the three-year
eligibility limit for a grant it received each year from the Catholic
Campaign for Human Development. The grant had subsidized the purchase of
workbooks for the students and tutors. This year, they were able to
squeeze out enough funds to cover the costs of books, but next years
funding is a concern. Despite the challenges ahead, Nelis is as determined
as her students to help people achieve literacy in English. She concluded,
Well make it work.;s=2;site=1


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