‘I need a better job’: Immigrants face language challenges as ESL classes limited due to COVID-19

VIDEO: ‘I need a better job’: Immigrants face language challenges as ESL classes limited due to COVID-19

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - English as a Second Language students at Dumas Education and Social Ministries (DESM) are working to become United States citizens, get better jobs and improve their overall quality of life.

Due to the pandemic and occupancy rules, the nonprofit has had to cut their enrollment by over 60%.

Being forced to turn students away due to COVID-19 restrictions, some teachers worry about those that cannot attend class.

“One of my things is that I hate to hear that someone who didn’t speak English gets ripped off at the store, but they do sometimes,” said DESM Director, Lisa Hately. “Their teller might not give them the right change back and the person doesn’t have any idea. And they know that...that’s wrong.”

One current student says the classes allow her to feel like a true American citizen, while others are working to become one.

“I know I don’t talk very well yet, but I can talk. I can make friends, and I love to make friends,” said Debra Janet Solis, a student at DEMS. “These classes are so wonderful for me. Because of all of [that], and I feel more comfortable here in the United states. I feel more a part of the country.”

Next week, Dumas Education and Social Ministries will start a new ESL school year -- a year that was supposed to begin in August.

This extended school year is just one of the many adjustments DESM has made so they can continue helping area residents.

The nonprofit has also provided students with individually wrapped supplies, such as white boards and books.

DESM teachers believe these efforts are necessary to not only teach them English, but allow them to use the language to live a better life.

“Empower them is a word I always use,” said Elda Cano, ESL teacher for DESM. “To empower these people that are coming to our community. To be able to visit the schools, visit the doctors office, to be able to go anywhere, to the bank, to the library. To be able to say ‘my name is’ and ‘this is my address,’ and ‘this is what I need’ and be able to do what they need to do and not have to depend on somebody else.”

DESM helps students of all skill levels, starting with those who cannot read or write.

“‘Level zero’ means they are total beginners. They are not educated to read or write in their native language,” explained Hatley. “So we’re teaching them how to write their name so they don’t have to sign an ‘X’ on a form because that’s humiliating, if you have to sign an ‘X’ on a form. That’s one of our big things, and also how to answer simple questions at first, such as their name and address and phone number.”

Learning such important life skills, students are excited to attend class, despite fears of COVID-19.

“Yes, I understand COVID is horrible... but, you need to live your life. I need to speak English,” said Solis. “The word doesn’t stop. I live in the United States. I need to speak English, and I want a better job.”

DESM also offers tutoring and childcare, helping elementary children with their homework as their parents take class.

The nonprofit hopes as vaccination efforts continue across the country, ESL classes can resume at full enrollment.

To help DESM in their mission, donations can be made through their Facebook page.

Donations help the nonprofit buy textbooks, computers, educational games and other supplies necessary to give their ESL students a better life. The nonprofit also runs a food pantry.

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