Students from many countries learn English at Waterport

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 February 2014 at 12:00 am

World Life Institute is working with students from China, Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Indonesia

Photos by Tom Rivers – Lifeng Lei, a student from China, addresses an ESL class on Monday, her final day with the group. She is headed back to China after a year in Orleans County, working at Intergrow Greenhouses in Albion and taking classes through the World Life Institute.

The class of ESL students poses for a picture with their teachers on Monday night. Students from six countries as well as Puerto Rico are enrolled in the program. Many of the students work at Intergrow Greenhouses.

WATERPORT – For a decade teachers at the World Life Institute partnered with the Orleans-Niagara BOCES to teach English to Mexican farmworkers.

The program has won state awards, and teacher Linda Redfield has been named the state’s top ESL teacher.

The program has become more diverse in the past year with students from Brazil, China, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Indonesia joining Mexican farmworkers in the classroom.

Many of those students are spending a year in Orleans County, interning at Intergrow Greenhouses. Those students have degrees in agriculture from universities in their home countries.

Students work in the computer lab using the Rosetta Stone program to learn English.

At Intergrow, they learn how to grow hydroponic tomatoes. They learn about irrigation, pest control and plant health, among many issues.

“It has been nice to meet so many new people,” said Oksana Kazakutsa, 26, of the Ukraine.

She will complete her year stay in the U.S. in two weeks. She wants to work in international business, perhaps in food and agriculture.

She praised the teachers at the World Life Institute, and also Dirk Biemans, owner of Intergrow, who welcomes the interns from around the world. Intergrow has 63 acres of greenhouses on Route 98 in Gaines. The company embraces students who want to learn about sustainable agricultural practices.

Oleksii Nepomniashchyi, 27, also is a student from the Ukraine. Like the other students, he works during at the day at Intergrow, and then takes English classes three evenings a week through the WLI, meeting at the Waterport school on Stillwater Road. The students also meet at Hoag Library for classes once a week.

The students have staggered internships at Intergrow so some students have been in the WLI program for several months when newcomers are enrolled.

“They all help each other,” said Linda Redfield, one of the teachers and the program director.

Tiangi Wang, 24, of China shares a slide show about his home country on Monday with other students in the ESL class.

The students share about their culture, sometimes bringing in prepared dishes of favorite foods in their countries. Redfield marveled at how multi-cultural the program has become.

There are 15 students in the program who are interning at Intergrow. Those students all live in Albion. The WLI continues to work with Mexican farmworkers, teaching ESL and helping some prepare for their citizenship test.

Octaviano Gomez, 41, of Medina has worked at local farms for many years. He passed the citizenship test on Jan. 9 and will soon be sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

“The teachers have helped me a lot,” he said on Monday at the school.

He wants to keep improving his skills, especially his English. That’s why he is back at the school.

“I want to learn more,” he said.

Cheryl Lieberman, a volunteer teacher with the WLI, works with a student who is preparing for his citizenship test.

Monica Beck is one of the teachers in the program. She said the students are highly motivated, which makes her job much easier.

“The students want to be here and the teachers want to be here,” she said. “It’s not like regular school where the students would rather be home playing video games.”

One of the students, Tiangi Wang of China, addressed the class on Monday. It was the last class for the 24-year-old. He thanked the group for their friendship and for helping him improve his English. He praised the staff at the school.

‘The teachers put their whole heart into it,” he said.