ESL teacher gets big surprise party from students
Linda Redfield praised for helping many workers build a better life through education
WATERPORT – Linda Redfield has devoted the past two decades-plus to helping about 400 farmworkers learn English. Redfield started going to labor camps in 1994, before a school built by the World Life Institute became the base for classes in 1999.
The school on Stillwater Road offers evening courses in English, as well as computer literacy, pottery and other programs.
Many of the students return year after year to improve their English. Many have earned GEDs. Ten of the students have earned their U.S. citizenship.
Redfield is a guiding force along the way, serving as more than a teacher. Her students threw her a surprise party on Saturday at the school.
“She always encouraged me and said, ‘You can do it,'” said student Gloria Jasso, who helped plan the surprise party for Redfield. “She is so special and is just wonderful not only to me but to everybody.”
Jasso grew up in rural, impoverished Mexico and never attended school. In 1998, Redfield started teaching Jasso English at her home in Kendall.
Redfield became like a second mother for Jasso, helping her settle into the community. Jasso worked at a local farm for 19 years. She now is employed at Lifetime Assistance, working with people with disabilities.
“With her support, many of us have accomplished a lot of our dreams,” Jasso said. “She always encourages us to succeed.”
Jose Iniguez was one of Redfield’s first English as a Second Language students in 1994, when Redfield went to a labor cap on Densmore Road to teach English to farmworkers.
Iniguez only spoke Spanish at the time. After a long day of work in the fields, Iniguez would study English. Redfield was always patient, always encouraging, Iniguez said. She was also flexible. Farmworkers might not get to the camp until 8 p.m., and Redfield would be ready to help them learn.
Iniguez said learning English helped him to get promoted at the LaMont farm. Today, he is co-owner of Lamont Fruit Farm, a 500-acre farm based down the road from the WLI school.
“She has changed a lot of lives,” Iniguez said at the party for Redfield. “She is the type of person who will almost always never say no. She will extend a hand to anyone.”
Redfield is well regarded around the state as an ESL teacher. In 2013, she was honored in Albany as “Teacher of the Year” by the New York State Association of Adult Continuing Education Programs. Five of her students have won “Student of the year” by the association.
Redfield thanked the students for the surprise on Saturday. Some of the students who attended the party hadn’t been to the WLI site in a few years. All came to thank Redfield for her work with the migrant farmworker community.
“Each and everyone of you is very important to me,” Redfield told the group during the celebration. “What is so beautiful is that you are at the World Life Institute representing the world, representing life, and learning together in peace and harmony.”
Redfield was asked what the biggest benefit has been to her in working with the farmworker population the past 22 years.
“The people, the relationships,” she said. “And the gratitude of the students, their humility and their progress.”
Redfield is currently pursuing a doctorate in leadership and policy development at Niagara University. She will remain active with the ESL program at the WLI, which is a partnership with the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.
Cheryl Lieberman has been teaching with Redfield in the program for more than 20 years. They often use music to help students learn English.
“This is what she loves,” Lieberman said about Redfield. “Not only is her heart in it, but she is willing to adapt.”
Redfield has seen the student base expand to workers and interns from Brazil, China, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Indonesia. They spend about a year in the local community while working and learning at Intergrow Greenhouses on Route 98 in Gaines.
The annual student recognition program included a record-high 44 students last month. They received certificates for their work in the program.
The students who surprised Redfield on Saturday made a certificate for her, in a style that she created for the students in the ESL and citizenship classes.
Redfield was honored by students, “For all of her hard work, and dedication to the Migrant Community. We couldn’t have done it without you!”