Young adults and children are celebrating graduations this week. However, a group of 16 adults are celebrating a special graduation, as well.
The Joint Neighborhood Project's Live and Learn English Program held the sixth graduation of its adult English as a second language program on Friday. During the ceremony, 16 native Spanish speakers were honored for their dedication and achievements throughout the two-hour-a-day, five-days-a-week program.
The graduates and their families, including many of the graduates' children, rejoiced during graduation with cheers, tears and embraces. The ceremony was appropriately held in their classroom at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, as they were surrounded by their hard work completed over the past two months, which was hanging on the walls.
"For small beginnings come great things," started Samantha Ellis, Live and Learn coordinator. "It's not a luxury to learn English. It's a necessity English is what is going to move you forward in this country."
She said she starts by teaching her students the fundamental basics of English, the ABCs, and tries to get them to reach a third- or fourth-grade level upon completion. Statistically, someone needs to be at third-grade level, at least, to be employable, she said.
"It's a big task to ask to have someone reach that level and become employable in five months," she said.
The program is usually five months long and runs in two cycles per year with up to 40 people per class. One cycle is from September to February and the other is from February to June. However, this graduating class is unique. They only participated in the program for two months.
Ellis said due to lack of enrollment, they had to cancel the class that started in February and restart it in April. The class started with 28 people enrolled in April and ended with a product of 16 at graduation, which Ellis said isn't a bad number at all.
"We had to condense programming a lot, which meant I had to hit topics quick and everybody had to be on their feet," she said. "That's why the attendance and drive was more on them this time than it was on me. They had a shorter period of time to grasp (it)."
Ellis said she isn't quite sure why the enrollment was down this time around, but it might have been a result of there being other programs now.
"We just didn't have a strong enrollment the first time in February. We lacked referral and community interest for some reason," she said. "Something that Live and Learn has never had to go through. In previous years, our track record is 50 to even 60 people signing up for the class.
"In two months, there was humongous growth among the individuals that were attending. Even though it was only a two month program, there was proof that as long as there is dedication and regular attendance and drive to learn the language, people will progress and people will succeed at it."
When asked why she participated in the program, Ineabelle Pagan-Bocachica said she wanted to learn more English so she could find a better job, as well as to help her kids with their homework and be able to make their doctor's appointments.
Maria Rosado-Santiago said in addition to being able to find a job, she wanted to be able to communicate with her son, who has already learned to speak English.
Both women wished that the program was longer and more extensive, and plan on taking other classes to further their skills.
"When I'm teaching them English, I want them to be able to pick up the phone and call their own doctor," said Ellis. "I want them to feel independent. We want to empower them, so they feel like they belong to the community. Because if they feel like they belong, they'll want to take care of it. If they want to take care of it, they'll want to put into it.
The Live and Learn program started in 2005. Ellis has been the coordinator for the program since 2007. In the last five years, a total of 88 adults have graduated from the program and 27 of them are now employed. Twenty-two of the graduates are disabled and wanted to learn English to be self-sufficient.
"Our community is evolving," said Ellis. "We want people to come here and become productive citizens of our community. We want people to not use governmental programs. We don't want people to come with the idea that we have all these handouts in Jamestown. JNP's drive is to teach English so we can have our Latino community be able to emerge into our current culture."
The 2012 Live and Learn summer graduates are Sacha M. de Jesus Torres, Ineabelle Pagan-Bocachica, Johara Garcia, Migdalia Torres-Torres, Arquimedes Rodriquez, Maria Rosado-Santiago, Yamari Gonzalez, Jennider Ocasio, Rose Cruz, Manuel Ramos, Heana Martinez, Jose Garcia, Nancy Rosado, Janny Rivera, Shayrie Gomez and Elizabeth Rivera.