It's Time to Get Immigrants the Help They Need, and St. Edward Has the Way

My conservative friends tell me not to complain so much about how government treats minorities and the poor including children.

Soon, they say, you become used to portraying yourself or others as a victim. And then you lose sight of your own capabilities.

They’re right. God helps those who help themselves. And we must be about finding new ways to help the most impoverished and challenged children not being adequately educated.

Toward that end, I am committing the first $ 1,000 to make plans for an Immigrant Education Center at St. Edward Catholic Church an immediate reality.

Church officials are applying to foundations for $ 26,000 to create a center to teach the English language to parents and offer them computer training for better jobs. In these evening classes, their children would be simultaneously taught English and helped to keep up in their mainstream school classes. The center also would welcome volunteers.

But foundations take time to make decisions. And you don’t know what it will be. Surely, there is $ 26,000 among those of us who believe teaching immigrants English is the top social and moral challenge facing the Midstate and our nation.

The most inspiring aspect of the St. Edward effort is its moral commitment. If there’s one church that already has enough on its plate, it’s St. Edward. If there’s a pastor already overloaded, it’s St. Edward’s pastor, Father Joe Breen.

During construction of a $ 2.7 million wing to the church, a storm severely damaged its school a year ago. So Father Joe had to raise another $ 2.5 million to build a new school. Meanwhile, he battled life-threatening heart problems.

Father Joe could have closed his eyes to the need and made excuses. Instead, he proposed the center.

“He wants to see it happen,” said Stephanie Bohan Gandy, church development director.

“Computer classes came from Father, and the children part of the plan came from me,” Gandy said. “He said we have to help people get better jobs. And anytime a child is in ESL (English as a Second Language) education, they automatically are behind in other subjects.”

In Tennessee, immigrants do NOT receive bilingual education. They are NOT taught in their native language. They are taught in English. That requires a lot of time, small class sizes and repetition. This kind of education is “immersion.”

But the lack of adequate resources and appropriate instruction in Metro schools results in many immigrant children being taught by “submersion.” Inadequate ESL instruction and placement of students in mainstream classes like science, math and history leave many kids intimidated and lost.

For the past four years, St. Edward has partnered with Metro to teach English to adults. The center would bring youth into evening classes for added help.

My hope is that private money can also be raised after the center’s opening to turn St. Edward’s school into an ESL center with full scholarships for ESL students. Last year the school had an ESL teacher on staff.

It’s time to stop whining and start doing. Make checks out to “St. Edward Catholic Church” and send them to: Stephanie Gandy, St. Edward Catholic Church, 188 Thompson Lane, Nashville, TN, 37211. Or call 833-3447.

Tim Chavez can be reached at 259-8304 or [email protected]

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