Editor’s Note: To protect the privacy of the individuals involved, all names have been changed. The new names were chosen by the children.
The other day, we assembled in chairs in the shade of a barn overhang at the farm where George and Brenda work. We were there to talk about the English as a second language (ESL) program at the Gardiner Library, where Brenda is tutored weekly for an hour by Marjorie, one of ten tutors trained by Ulster Literacy Association in an eighteen hour program to equip them to provide one-on-one ESL tutoring. Materials for the ESL program are provided by the Friends of the Library.
Originally from Mexico, George and Brenda live at the farm with their three children: George, a fourth grader; Katherine, a second grader; and Javier, a first grader. Having expected to speak to Brenda, I was intrigued to find that assembling for this interview took about five minutes; the children collected workbooks and pencils, jockeyed for chairs and sat, fidgeted and turned pages, many already completed. The children’s workbooks, it turned out, had been a gift from Marjorie.
“Class is really good. Marjorie is a nice teacher and I consider her a friend,” Brenda said, assessing the year and a half they’ve been working together. Marjorie, however, finds the arrangement rewarding enough that she feels she may get the most out of the association. The children’s expectation that they would be involved in their mother’s interview was soon explained. The first time Marjorie picked Brenda up for her 6:30PM Tuesday night session at the library, the children were wary of this stranger taking their mother away. Over time though, it became apparent that they felt left out, so, though the ESL program itself is for adults, George and Katherine started coming along. (Young Javier said, “I stay behind with my dad and get a treat.”) While Marjorie works for an hour with Brenda, her children explore the library’s computers, books, DVDs and CDs.
Now, Brenda’s husband George attends a group ESL session on Wednesday evenings at the Gardiner Library and the two children go along for that as well. Katherine proudly amplified, “I go on Wednesday with my daddy.”
The entire family has Gardiner Library cards and they visit at other times during the week as well. Katherine’s favorite books are Fancy Nancy and Pinkaliscious. She has a Hello Kitty tote bag and—whether self-appointed or delegated—acts as custodian of all the family’s books. When I visited, the bag was full. George showed me The Lightning Thief which he’s now reading but said, “My favorite book is The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s very long.”
What had been an informal arrangement may now become more formal as Library Manager Nicole Lane has received a grant to fund a program for children who accompany ESL students to their classes.