ESL classes move to La Luz
MANY OF THE STUDENTS of La Luz Center’s inaugural ESL classes marked their graduation with a ceremony at Booker Hall last Thursday.
When the Sonoma Valley Adult School closed it doors last spring, a victim of budget cuts, access was blocked to four English as a second language classes, meaning 270 ESL students would have to find another way to learn English.
But with support from the Todd Trust, La Luz Center was able to take over three of the four classes, even hiring the same instructors the Adult School employed to maintain a continuum of curriculum with Kate Willmers, Martha Pine and Paulette Ross.
“That was a way we could also support our local teachers,” said Maricarmen Reyes-Larios, coordinator of educational programs and leadership at La Luz. “But we couldn’t have done any of it without the Todd Trust.”
Established by Hazel and Roland Todd, the money is administered to support health, human services and open space, particularly in the Springs. With a $71,000 grant from the Todd Trust, La Luz Center offered one set of morning classes ranging from beginner to advanced; as well as two sets of evening classes both at La Luz and El Verano Elementary School. Last Thursday, students of the inaugural classes celebrated their graduation with friends and family during a packed event at Booker Hall.
“The students were very happy, they were filled with pride,” Reyes-Larios said. When developing the program, La Luz strived to make the classes easily accessible for students. The cost was just $25; and during morning sessions, childcare was provided to ensure students with kids could still attend class. Reyes-Larios said up to one-third of students utilized the childcare program.
“Education is a major part of our mission statement, and thus we aim to empower our community through education that leads to self-advocacy and leadership in their family and in the community,” said Juan Hernandez III, the new executive director at the La Luz Center in a press release. “We are delighted that our community members will continue to be able to attend classes in a convenient location and learn basic language skills that will be crucial to their success.”
To graduate, students must pass a certified test to move onto the next level of instruction. Of the 92 students who registered this fall, 46 passed the test, although Reyes-Larios is quick to point out not all students took the test.
“To say they’ve successfully completed it, we needed to have their test scores. But some students really didn’t want to take the test,” she explained. “We’re trying to make sure the students do their test because that’s a way we can monitor their progress and use it to get more funding.”
Reyes-Larios said La Luz Center has enough funding to offer another semester of classes, which will begin Jan. 8. The classes are expected to fill up quickly, and students must be present on registration day to secure a spot.
But beyond those classes, the nonprofit will need to find a new monetary stream to continue offering them. “We really encourage the community if they want to donate any money,” she said. “Even if it’s just $5 or $10, whatever their heart wants.”
American University master’s student Rachael Meyn spent the semester interning at La Luz for a study she is conducting on how ESL students fare. She is hoping to create data that will allow the nonprofit to apply for more educational grants. The study examines why students seek out the classes, what they expect to do with the education and what challenges they face while learning English.
“The ESL classes will help me to give my family a better future, get a good job and help my daughter with her education. I am very grateful for these classes,” said Biridiana Martinez, 29, the mother of a 9-year-old child.
Many students reflected that opinion – they want to learn English to get a better job, have better communication at work or to help support their child in school. “People just want to be able to eat, pay for their basic needs and send their children to school,” Reyes-Larios said.
For details, visit laluzcenter.org or call 938-5131.