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Volunteer to Teach English to New Americans! March 30, 2007 6:54 AM Volunteer in Minnesota Tutor Children of New Immigrants America's Heartland is typically pictured as an agrarian, European-American haven isolated from global influences. The reality is far from the cliche, however. Thousands of increasingly diverse Midwestern communities are integrating diverse cultures of Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, Sudan, Vietnam, Somalia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Laos, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other countries into their civic identity. In Pelican Rapids for instance, an influx of immigrants during the past decade has swollen the town's population by 26 percent. Today, nearly a quarter of the elementary students live in homes where English is either not spoken or spoken very little. Vounteer Work Projects The Minnesota Project focuses on the needs of three increasingly diverse rural communities that have become microcosms of the world at large: Austin, Pelican Rapids, and Worthington, Minnesota. These small communities have experienced an explosive growth of immigrant populations over the last decade, which has created new challenges for what were previously towns of almost exclusively European ancestry. By teaching conversational English and nurturing warm, fun-loving children, you can help enhance immigrant students' and adults' ability to speak the English language. Most of Americans' ancestors did not speak English when they first arrived in the new world. Those who preceded them taught them or their children English so they could thrive in and contribute to their new country. If you are a native English speaker, you can return the favor. When children of immigrants and refugees learn English, their classroom performance as well as their future educational opportunities and employment prospects improve dramatically. Further, they and their families can better communicate effectively with their neighbors, easing their integration into the community. All this contributes to greater understanding, and results in the barriers of distrust, discrimination, and misunderstanding crumbling. Even if you've never formally taught in a classroom, you can be a valuable resource to eager young students and adult learners. All that's required is a flexible attitude and a desire to serve! Pelican Rapids: In west-central Minnesota's "Heart of the Lakes" region, nearly one-fourth of all elementary students live in homes where English is either not spoken at all or spoken very little. The Multicultural Committee and the independent community school district have developed a summer program to help elementary school students sharpen their English skills before they return to school in the fall. Most of the students pick up the language quite quickly in the classroom, but during the summer months, they can lose their new English skills. Under the direction of the school district, Global Volunteers conducts a weeklong English language "summer camp" in August where these kids read, write and speak English so they are a step ahead when they go back to school in September. This is an enjoyable and fun-filled week of games, stories, contests, and arts and crafts -- all in English. Any native English speaker can volunteer and make a world of difference in the lives of these precious new Americans. Worthington: Known as the "City of Brotherhood," this southwestern Minnesota town lives up to this moniker as the 10,000 friendly residents comprise the very heart and soul of this region's commercial center. Since 1990, this typical farming community has seen its minority population grow from six percent to 23 percent of the overall population. Today more than 17 different languages and dialects are spoken among the students of the Worthington school district. Volunteers work side-by-side with Worthington educators and residents who provide conversational English practice for immigrant adults.. This is a very important service that you can provide because language is key to success in a new land. You can help these new Americans to reach their potential and become successful members of American society. Austin: Just 12 miles from the northern Iowa border, this bustling, progressive community of 22,000 works hard to make new immigrants feel welcomed, and to integrate them quickly into the local culture. As in many rural Heartland communities, Austin has a large population of immigrants and refugees, all of whom need to learn the language of their new country. At the invitation of the mayor and local nonprofit organizations, Global Volunteers agreed to assist with this exciting challenge. Under the direction of community leaders, volunteers conduct an English language "summer camp" where elementary students sharpen their English skills before returning to school in the fall. This is an extraordinarily enjoyable assignment -- the kids want to learn, and they are happy to meet new friends. Further, the community is most gracious, and any native English speaker can be helpful. In addition, there is another treat in store for those who volunteer in Austin -- SPAM! Austin is often referred to as "SPAM Town" because the largest local employer and the only Fortune 500 company located in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities is Hormel, the producer of SPAM. "The first morning, a Bosnian father dropped off his daughter early. Standing there, face to face with a man who had fled a war in his home country, and was now trying to support a family in a strange place (with little time to spend on his children or wife) just overwhelmed me. I had to go into the kitchen and cry for a moment. He was just so sweet." -- Carol Conzelman, Boulder, CO  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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