By Dinah Shields, Special to the Independent
It isn’t exactly your ordinary end of school party. For one thing, many of the students have their children with them. Also, Laguna Beach council member Jane Egly is here, as is David Peck, chair of the Cross-cultural Council.
Where are we? At La Playa ESL (English as a Second Language) School, whose four times weekly classes are held September to June, Monday to Thursday, 9 to 11 a.m., at the Boys and Girls Club in Laguna Canyon.
La Playa teaches adults and provides daycare for their young children while their parents are in class. Classes are free of charge, open to all, and are taught by volunteer teachers.
The students’ backgrounds are varied.
Theresa Dominguez is busy at the colorful serape-covered ping-pong table, organizing the generous amounts of food the students have brought as their annual thank-you to the teachers. Previously a student, she is now assistant to long-time director Sally Rapuano. Theresa also researches and presents classes on nutrition to the La Playa students. She and her family had worked their way up to renting their own house, but, due to the recession, have had to take smaller quarters. But she is optimistic, with the attitude that they have been through tough times before, and they will get back on their feet eventually, as they always do. Her strong sense of family and community, of which her involvement with La Playa is part, keep her going.
Advanced level ESL student Alma Pacheco is here with her two beautifully dressed young children. As well as attending classes, she is planning lessons to teach Spanish to English-speaking adults. Her first guinea pig is director Rapuano, who every school morning gets a 15 minute lesson from Alma, conducted in front of the ESL learners, so they can see what it looks like to be both teacher and taught.
Pedro Garcia stands with the other single young men who attend La Playa classes. He is tall, handsome, and rather bashful, with good English but a great shyness about using it. In class, he responds well to humor and a little silliness on the part of the teacher, as she tries to act out “moose,” a new vocabulary word.
Alejandra Perdomo, with her master’s degree in law, is here on a student visa from Bogota, Colombia, brushing up her English before returning to her homeland to work to improve its education system. Her English is fluent and well-structured, but she needs more vocabulary, as her quick mind outstrips her fund of English words.
You might have met some of La Playa’s students if you have ever enjoyed their tamales on Hospitality Night. The tamale sales are their major fund-raiser, although they have also been given grants by various sources, including the AAUW for textbooks, and are assisted by the public library with storybooks for the small children.
The teachers’ backgrounds are varied, too. They have, variously, advanced degrees in education, Peace Corps experience, business backgrounds and professional writing careers. Unanimously, they love their work at La Playa; some have been there since the beginning, 11 years ago.
English is widely acknowledged as being a fiendishly difficult language to learn. The relationship between teacher and student can become intense, as the teacher struggles to do a better job of explaining it all, and the student wrestles with new words and sounds. The teachers report that it is intensely satisfying “to see the light come on” when they have successfully done their job, and made a difficult point of English come clear to their hard-working students.
Dinah Shields is the Laguna Beach-based owner of Bespoke Libraries.