44 foreign students recognized for ESL work

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 June 2014 at 12:00 am

1 farmworker earns citizenship, others improve English

Photos by Tom Rivers – Octaviano Gomez holds an American flag while being recognized for becoming a U.S. citizen on Monday when he and other students were praised for their efforts to learn English and other skills.

Claudio Fernandes of Brazil smiles while holding a certificate in recognition of his efforts to learn English. Fernandes works at Intergrow Greenhouses in the town of Gaines. Linda Redfield, program director, is at left. Students took classes who were from Brazil, Mexico, China, Bulgaria and Indonesia.

WATERPORT Every Monday and Wednesday evening, often after hours of work in local fields or dairy barns, farmworkers will learn English, computer skills and some even study U.S. Civics in preparation for the citizenship test.

The students were all praised and given certificates during a recognition program on Monday at the World Life Institute. The organization partners with the Orleans-Niagara BOCES to run the English, computer and civics classes.

“You’ve become a model for your children,” Becky Albright, BOCES board president, told the students. “It takes a lot of courage to be in a foreign country and to go back to school after you’ve been working.”

Officials from the Orleans-Niagara BOCES attended Monday’s recognition program. The trio includes, from left: Dr. Clark Godshall, superintendent for BOCES; Susan Diemert, adult literacy coordinator for BOCES; and Becky Albright, BOCES board president.

Dr. Clark Godshall, superintendent of BOCES, attended the recognition ceremony and praised the 44 students and their teachers for their work.

“We’ve been hearing about your story and it is a story of success,” Godshall told them. “You’re paving the way for the future of your children.”

Manuel Torres smiles after singing a song and playing his guitar during the recognition program.

Manuel Torres, 30, started taking classes in the program about five months ago. He works at a dairy farm in Middleport, feeding calves.

He said he often felt shy at work and in the community because he didn’t have a good grasp of English.

“I only knew a few words before, but now I can introduce myself and communicate with people,” he said Monday after the recognition program. “I don’t need somebody else to interpret for me.”

Torres said he is doing better at work, too, because he can better understand the boss’s expectations.

He played a guitar and sang a Garth Brooks song, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” during the recognition program.

“You have to let the people you love know that you love them,” Torres told the group before he started singing.

Octaviano Gomez became a U.S. citizen on May 14.

Octaviano Gomez was the first student to be recognized on Monday. He passed the U.S. citizenship test on Jan. 9 and took the Oath of Citizenship on May 14. Gomez lives in Medina with his wife and four children. He has been taking English classes at WLI for two years.

“The teachers helped me a lot, every time I came,” said Gomez, who has worked for several local fruit farms.

By becoming a citizen, he said he hopes to create more opportunities for his family.

Many of the students taking the classes have young children. The parents were praised for taking English classes and working hard to create opportunities for their families.

The WLI school on Stillwater Road also offers pottery classes on Wednesday nights for women who work in local agriculture. The pottery classes started in 2004 as an expanded family literacy program so more women and children could learn with their husbands and fathers. The Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council helps to support that program. The participants learn English while creating art.

Deborah Wilson leads the pottery classes. She also handed out recognition certificates to participants.

The students’ colorful bowls, cups, platters, trays and other works were on display at the WLI school on Monday.

“They never had a chance to see what they can do themselves,” Wilson said about her students and their art. “It’s exciting to make your own things that are functional.”

Francesca Colon is congratulated by Deborah Wilson for completing English and pottery classes. Colon has an essay published in a literacy magazine in Rhode Island.