Valley students hone language skills at university level

August 10, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

LA JOLLA — "I was scared coming to the U.S.," said Hugo Guzman, 17, of Holtville.

Hugo moved to this country five months ago from the state of Nayarit, Mexico with his 32-year-old brother.

Not knowing English, he was afraid to move to this country.

"I was embarrassed when people would talk to me," he said. "I didn't want to go to the stores or anywhere because I didn't know how to speak English."

Since moving to Holtville, Hugo has been taking night classes to learn English.

"I would like to speak and write English well," said Hugo.

That is why Hugo participated in a Summer English Immersion Migrant Program of the Imperial County Office of Education.

In its 16 years the program has been helping students like Hugo learn English.

"The program gives those students that are acquiring a second language with an opportunity to totally become immersed in an environment like this," said Gina Andrade, program coordinator.


SEIMP is conducted at University of California, San Diego.

"It exposes them to the university level and this is great because then they get to see what living in a dorm and going to college is all about," said Andrade. "They're basically attending college."

This year the program is at the Eleanor Roosevelt College on the UCSD campus.

The program started July 16 and will end Sunday when the students come home after spending a month away from the Valley and their families.

The high school students, 14 to 19 years old, are from Calexico, El Centro, Holtville, Brawley, Westmorland and Heber.

Eight staff members are involved in the program. Three teachers, Mario Nido, originally from Holtville but now living in Chula Vista, Keja Benson, a Brawley resident who teaches at Imperial High School, and a teacher who wished to remain anonymous are in charge of improving English oral, written and reading skills.

There also are four instructional assistants/dorm supervisors, some of whom attend Imperial Valley College.

Forty students were recruited to the program; 24 girls and 16 boys. The students were recruited through high school migrant counselors.

Andrade said the migrant counselors are given applications for students they think should participate The applications are reviewed by the ICOE and applicants who stand out are selected.

The main criteria to participate are that students must be learning English as a second language, must be migrants and must have good academic standing.

Andrade has been with the ICOE for about four years but this is the first summer she has worked with SEIMP.

The $2,500 cost for each student is paid completely by the ICOE. The only money the students need is for souvenirs or other miscellaneous items.

Andrade said the program teaches the students more than English.

"Besides learning English, it teaches them conflict resolution skills because this is something new for them," she said.

"There are 48 different personalities and you're not going to please everybody, but if you can at least learn to get along with people, then that's very important," said Andrade.

"Also, (the students learn) not to stereotype people. Just because she has thinner eyebrows doesn't mean she is less intelligent or less sensitive, just because she dresses really nice doesn't mean she's humble and just because he has spiky blond hair and a pierced nose doesn't mean he is different," she added.

"I've tried to stress to them to accept and respect people, not just themselves but anybody they meet," she said.

Andrade said she has already seen much improvement in the students' English skills.

"On the first day of the project they were to present each other and you could tell their English level was pretty low. The other day I did an activity with them and it was amazing to see how much improvement they've made," said Andrade.

"The hardest thing for most of the students is actually speaking it. It's embarrassing for them to speak it but they're coming around and making an effort," she added.

"We've had several meetings with them to stress to them to take advantage of this program and the opportunity that's there. We try to stress the importance of speaking English," said Andrade.

The UCSD campus, which houses about 20,000 students, provides a unique environment, said Andrade.

"The diversity of the campus exposes them to people from other cultures," said Andrade.

"The fact that there are so many resources available is amazing," she added.

She said the students have been taken on field trips to the Chula Vista Nature Center's protected marshlands, to the ocean, to plays, to a Padres baseball game, to the Wild Animal Park, to the Natural History Museum, to shopping malls and much more.

"We have one student that has never seen the ocean. It was wonderful to see that because all of us take it for granted since we come up here so much," said Andrade.

The students have classes from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. with a lunch break from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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