Sunday, August 31, 2008

A chance to be of service to humanity

This ESOL teacher uses his own experiences to teach people English. He even uses Elvis Presley songs. DP

BY ANA MARIA TORO On a recent Thursday evening, a diverse group of immigrants hailing from Egypt to Ecuador to China showed up for English class on W. 14th St.

But instead of sitting as usual at desks and reviewing vocabulary lists, they leaned back on the pews of a former church, learned the lyrics to the Elvis Presley song "Love Me Tender" and sang it in unison.

This unorthodox ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) class is headed by Feliciano Jaime Atienza, a lively 52-year-old Filipino who has dedicated most of his life to teaching new arrivals how to speak English and thrive in a new land.

"I won't get rich with this profession," says Atienza, a Queens resident who arrived in the U.S. in 1985, "but I get so much from my students. They are like my children and I am teaching them to speak. I nurture them and help them grow."

He uses the city as a classroom, taking his students - many of them poor immigrants who work in the service industry - on field trips to the library, Central Park and even Macy's.

He's also a well of information for students dealing with problems at work or health concerns, putting them in touch with city agencies and plugging them into available services.

His goal is not only to teach his pupils the language, but to help them become adjusted to the city and to the people who live in it.

"Here is like a school of life," Atienza says in his small classroom in the basement of the Old Guadalupe Church.

The room is decorated with collages of family pictures brought in by the students and short essays about their personal histories - a whimsical touch from Atienza, who creates interactive art installations when he's not teaching.

"This is where you learn how to accept each other," he says.
His experiences teaching English in the refugee camps of his native Manila in the 1980s, as well as the turmoil in his own country, taught him the importance of acceptance between people from different backgrounds.
Be sure to read the rest of this story! This is only a small part of it.

No comments: