HCC Hosts ESL Award Ceremony

Attendees of the 2012 Haywood Community College (HCC) ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) Program Award Ceremony enjoyed a potluck dinner featuring native cuisine, student speeches, the awarding of certificates, singing, musical entertainment and dancing Friday night, March 30, at HCC’s Sunrise Café. Although not officially a graduation ceremony, this annual event recognizes the academic progress of the students in the ESL Program and gives students, their families, instructors, and administrative personnel a chance to celebrate students’ achievements in learning English.

“Just like U.S. Americans in college, these adults juggle family, work, church and school,” explained Ellen Welles, lead instructor, noting that the students know their success depends on their ability to communicate in the English language. In the 18 years Welles has taught at HCC, she has had students from 34 different countries around the globe.

Those receiving certificates of achievement included Graciela Cabrera, from Cuba; Olga Byrd, from Ukraine; Cecilia Müller Johnson, from Argentina; Felipe Moreira, from Brazil, Pedro and Roberto Perez, from Guatemala; and Eugenia Martin, Florina Salinas, Yolanda Salinas, Celia Gamez and Alejandra Herrera, from Mexico. Three students - Cabrera, Müller Johnson and Moreira - gave speeches about their experiences in learning English and their adjustments to living in the United States.

“It is not easy to learn to speak, understand, write and read English correctly,” said Ms. Cabrera. “First of all we need to have a great desire to do it, we need to work hard, make an effort and persevere, but at the same time it is completely fascinating to break each day a little more the language barrier, allowing us to learn about this interesting country and its culture, to share with its citizens, make friends, take the opportunities they give to immigrants, and be an active part of this great country, the United States of America. That would not be possible to reach if we didn't speak the language.”

Welles welcomed to the gathering the new Coordinator of Adult Education at HCC, Patricia Smith; HCC’s Vice President of Student and Workforce Development, Dr. Laura Leatherwood; and ESL recruiter Juan Peña Mejia (who helped organize the event and took photos). She noted that the success of a program depends on the leadership, hard work and support of administrative personnel in addition to students and instructors.

Welles also thanked two friends from Asheville: Jim Fox (hammered dulcimer and string bass), who is a member of the bluegrass band Appalachian Fire, and Gail Ashburn (auto harp and voice), who volunteered to provide musical entertainment and accompaniment throughout the evening. 

Haywood Community College has offered ESL instruction free of charge for more than 20 years in morning, afternoon and evening classes throughout the county, according to Welles. In addition to face-to-face classes during those years, the program is now in its third year of offering Tell Me More; a comprehensive English language learning program student can access online 24/7. Other special classes include U.S. Citizenship classes, workplace classes at Giles Chemical Repack Plant in Waynesville, migrant worker classes in Bethel and a class geared for landscape and construction workers.

Welles thanked the Haywood Community College Foundation for awarding mini grants to the ESL Program several times in recent years. She also had special praise for Clyde Central United Methodist Church. Since the early 2000’s, this church has allowed HCC to hold ESL classes in one of its classrooms. Other community partners include Mountain Projects Community Action Agency, which has worked closely with the program for 12 years, providing transportation for students to and from class. Also Pigeon Multicultural Development Community Center, the First United Methodist Church of Canton, Carroll Burris (greenhouse in a tomato field) and Bethel Baptist Church have allowed the program to hold classes in their facilities. (Contacts in the ESL Program are Juan Peña Mejia (565-4181) and Ellen Welles (232-7180).

Story submitted by Ellen Welles 4/13/12 (232-7180). Photos taken by Juan Peña Mejia.