Originally created 03/12/06

Hispanic families pick up second language together



Referencing a make-believe menu from Stanley's International Restaurant, Martin Gamino asked his 10-year-old son Samir a question about food.

"What does Stanley cook on Saturday?" Mr. Gamino asked.

"On Saturday, Stanley cooks Mexican food," responded Samir.

Along with Samir's mother, Celia, and his 6-year-old sister, Abril, the Gamino family take turns asking and answering questions from a workbook they use in their English class at Grovetown Elementary School.

The after-school classes are part of a pilot program designed to help Spanish-speaking families learn English. The program was introduced in November.

"If you're going to be successful in America, you need to speak English," said Grovetown Elementary Principal Bob Boyd, who originated the program. "These families all have a relationship with us. I want them to be successful."

Mr. Boyd said the program provides a vital learning experience in an area with a burgeoning Hispanic population.

U.S. Census Bureau data estimate Columbia County's Hispanic population at nearly 3,000, but those figures do not provide specifics on Grovetown's Hispanic population nor the number of the county's illegal immigrants. Federal figures rank Georgia seventh on a list of states with the most undocumented foreigners.

Since Vicki Starcher, the school's English to Speakers of Other Languages teacher, began teaching in Grovetown in 2003, her Hispanic enrollment has more than tripled. She now has 33 Spanish-speaking pupils in her ESOL class.

The after-school English classes at Grovetown Elementary require an adult family member to attend the classes with the child. Students are allowed to bring non-school-age children to the lesson as well.

Ms. Starcher credits the program with improving the English skills of her Hispanic students.

"If their parents learn English and they're eager to learn English, it can only help them at home," she said. "By learning it together, it shows that the parents also value learning English."

The free classes are taught at Grovetown Elementary by Sherry Norris, a Panama-born paraprofessional.

Attendance varies from week to week, but Mrs. Norris estimates she has an enrollment of 30.

"Learning as a family really helps," she said. "The students can practice with their parents and they can do things like shop together and know what to ask for."

Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.