ESL program helping parishioners in Park City

Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
By Laura Vallejo
Intermountain Catholic

PARK CITY — Parents waiting to pick up their children from religious education classes at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church can take advantage of a new English as a Second Language program.
Ivoone Chapa, the parish secretary, got the idea to start the class when she saw that “the parents were just there sitting down, waiting for their kids and looking at their cell phones.”
Thinking there must be a way to help the parents use their time better, she wondered about starting an English language class, she said. She discussed the idea with the parish’s religious education coordinator, Lauri Hawkins, “and discovered that she also had the idea to have some type of classes for these parents,” Chapa said.
She did a little research into Park City’s Hispanic community and discovered that many of the people don’t speak English well, despite having lived there for many years.
“Some know how to hear it and speak it but not write it; others have just very few vocabulary words,” said Chapa.
She also discovered that this is the main reason these people have limited job opportunities, “and their jobs are very demanding, so they don’t have lots of time to be with their families or to improve their quality of life,” she said.
Chapa and Hawkins approached the parish pastor, Fr. Stan Herba, who loved the idea of having an ESL class, Chapa said.
“Catholics are one Church and unfortunately sometimes language is the one thing that divides us,” Chapa said, adding that, “My experience has been that with a good English level you can find a better job, with more freedom and good pay, which is one of the objectives, so these parents can find better jobs and spend more quality time with their family.”
Chapa speaks from experience. She struggled with the language at the beginning, so “I can testify that English opens doors,” she said.
At the end of September, St. Mary’s ESL program became a reality, with 15 people attending the class.
“People received us very well. ... There were also people interested from the outside,” said Chapa.
The classes are every Tuesday for 12 weeks, the same schedule as the religious education calendar.
“We don’t want people to stress about it right now; we know they work every single day and just give themselves a bit of time to be with their children on Tuesdays,” Chapa said. “My idea is to later on try to do small visits to their houses to talk more with them, give them homework. ... I think that persistence and consistency is very important to be able to learn English better.”
The first few classes will be basic English.
“The objective of these weeks is that at the end people can write their own sentences and know to read small stories,” Chapa said.
At the end of the 12 weeks, members of the parish’s Anglo community will be asked to volunteer to help in the classes and talk to the students, helping with pronunciation and fluency, Chapa said.
Maria Benitez, one of those who is taking the classes, said she is hoping it will help her improve her life.  
“I have struggled a lot,” said Benitez, who has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality but works as a cleaning lady. “If I knew better English, I know that I will start doing better for myself and my kids.”
WHAT: ESL classes
WHEN: Tuesdays, 6-7:30 p.m.
WHERE: St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, 1505 White Pine Canyon Road, Park City
COST: $15 for parents of children in the parish’s religious education classes; $25 for others. The cost covers materials.
For information, contact Chapa at 435-649-9676 or go the parish office, at the above address.

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