Project is ‘Breaking Barriers’ with love, language

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
English language instructor Marina Guerrero of Huntingburg talks with Heydi Giron of Huntingburg during a Breaking Barriers English class at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper on Tuesday. The 12-week course is designed to teach English to those whose primary language is Spanish and provides students a sponsor for class materials, a tutor and transportation.


JASPER — Oly Hernandez of Huntingburg was in a study room at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper in mid-December, practicing sentences in English.

First, she looked at a list of English words and chose the word “doctor” from the list. Using the lessons she learned in the last 12 weeks, she wrote a sentence on her own, using the word.

She proudly said the sentence out loud to her personal tutor. “I have to go to the doctor tomorrow.”

Hernandez and the other students participated in the Breaking Barriers project, a faith-based program that uses love and language to help students learn English and build confidence to reach out and communicate with other English speakers.

“We want to help them build some competency in English,” said Timmie Westfall, coordinator of the program. “And that will build their confidence in communicating.”

Hernandez knows a little bit of English, but wants to be better at it.

“My work is babysitting,” she said. “I need to speak English with the parents of the babies I care for.”

She has taken an English class in the past, but she was looking for more practice in speaking and writing the language, she said.

Heydi Giron of Huntingburg laughs with classmates during a Breaking Barriers English class at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper on Tuesday.

Nelson Lopez of Huntingburg was also wanting to learn how to write in English.

“I work in construction, and I must speak English,” he said. “I can speak the language, but I want to learn the grammar. And I can read it a little bit. But the writing is hard.”

Learning to write English sentences will help with his job.

“My boss and the secretary at the office, they send a lot of text messages. And I have to read it. And I have to send a message back to them,” he said. “I use the translator on my phone. I want to learn how to write it by myself.”

Westfall and social worker Marina Guerrero serve as English language instructors and work together to lead the classes. Westfall gives announcements and overall instructions in English and Guerrero translates that into Spanish. And they teach words, phrases and grammar in English and Spanish, with students repeating the lessons in English. If a student has a question, they try to ask in English; but when they get stuck, they say it in Spanish and Guerrero tells them how to say it in English. Every part of the lesson is moving students and encouraging them to speak in English.

After the group lesson, students are broken into smaller groups with a tutor or have one-on-one lessons with a tutor.

Each student’s curriculum is individualized and based on two goals each student wants to achieve.

The Breaking Barriers program provides transportation for students to get to the lessons at Redemption. Each student has a sponsor who covers the cost of their program materials, attends some of the classes to meet and get to know the student, helps celebrate Christmas and the student’s birthday, and communicates with the student outside of class through methods like phone calls, get-togethers or text messages.

Whitley Duncan of Haysville helps Pedro Rivera of Huntingburg spell the word "year" during a Breaking Barriers English class at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper on Tuesday.

“The sponsors are here to love on them and communicate with them,” Westfall said. “We are loving on these students and helping them learn some English; we are not putting any requirements on them for anything else.

Volunteer tutors work with students on their individual goals. Guerrero, who is an instructional assistant at Huntingburg Elementary School, also helps the Breaking Barriers students with other parts of their lives. She works with their families, helps them fill out needed forms and works as a liaison between the Hispanic and American communities.

“We all want to work together,” she said. “Once they learn English, they can take it into our community, and help bring both communities together.”

Closer to the end of the 12 weeks, students were reading English sentences out loud to practice the enunciation. They were reading off a list of words that dealt with occupations and learning work phrases, like pay raise, promotion, fired, part time, overtime, shift.

Guerrero demonstrated how the letters s and h sound together. “Sh,” she said as an elongated sound.

The class repeated after her: “Sh.” And they added the rest of the word: “shift.”

“Bueno, muy bueno,” Guerrero said, “very good.”

When they were done with the list, the students broke up into smaller groups and worked on constructing sentences. Bilingual and English-speaking tutors were on hand to help.

“I received a pay raise.”

“My nephew is a farmer.”

Timmie Westfall of Santa Claus welcomes Maria Molina of Huntingburg to the Breaking Barriers English class at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper on Tuesday. Westfall said the students are a wonderful group.

Tutor Whitley Duncan of Haysville said she could see how the students have improved. “They have more confidence when they speak,” she said. “To me, that is success. That is how you break down the barriers.”

Jorge Soto of Huntingburg said he has learned some English through the class.

“I’ve never studied in a class like this,” he said. “I learned some English by hearing people around me. This class has helped me to understand more phrases and words, and how to use them when I speak. I start to learn how to write it, but I need more time. I want more of this.”

Hernandez is glad she participated in the program.

“I have learned more English,” she said. “But I need to come back for more.”

Both plan to come back to the second Breaking Barriers program, which will start soon at Redemption.

“This is basic survival English,” Westfall said. “They want to learn everyday English, to be able to communicate and do basic things, like leaving a note for someone, or learning the alphabet. They want to be able to start a business and be involved in the community.

“It’s breaking the language barrier, the cultural barrier in the community, in the home, in the school.”

To participate, help or learn more about the program, contact Westfall at 812-639-3239 or Guerrero at 812-827-1661.

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