Adults celebrate Spanish literacy, education

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 05:17 PM

On Thursday evening, festive Spanish music filled the Durham Armory as 27 adult students gathered with their families and friends to celebrate the accomplishments they had been working toward over the past year.
El Centro Hispano’s Plaza Comunitaria taught students at three levels: literacy skills, primary education and secondary education. The program was created by the Mexican consulate in 2001 and brought to the U.S. in 2004. El Centro Hispano in Durham has been offering Plaza Comunitaria classes about that long, said Tana Hoffman, education program director.
“They are very excited to have a certificate of graduation because it’s another level for them,” Hoffman said. “They have gone too much of their life without reading. They are very emotional; it’s a great thing for them.”
All lessons are taught in Spanish, but ESL programs are offered, as well as other classes such as Circle of Patterns, a class about child abuse prevention, and Mother Read, a class encouraging parents to read to their children.
Hoffman noted that some of the students spoke other Latin American languages and overcame an extra milestone by learning Spanish and then learning to read and write in Spanish.
Students meet twice a week for a year, Hoffman said. This graduating class began their studies last September.
Because classes are so frequent, El Centro Hispano tries to shape the program into a family affair. While parents complete their studies, tutors are available to help students grades K-12 with homework. There is also a child-care center that focuses on preparing children ages 0 to 5 for kindergarten. All of the classes and programs are dependent on volunteers.
In addition to graduation, El Centro Hispano had another cause for celebration. A representative from Morrisville-based Lenovo attended the ceremony to donate 10 tablets for use in classes.
Alex Blanco, a five-year employee of Lenovo, started volunteering at El Centro Hispano last year teaching basic computer skills. After learning that his employer offered opportunities for grants in exchange for volunteer hours, he applied.
Suzie Koonce, a representative for community partnerships for Lenovo, explained that the program is relatively new. Since it was unveiled last year, Lenovo employees have volunteered about 7,500 hours in their communities. Lenovo makes grant decisions on a quarterly basis, and El Centro Hispano’s tablets were part of the second-quarter awards.
The tablets will be used to help future students gain confidence. A beaming Alejandrina Aguirre said she felt more independent after completing the studies to gain her certificate.
“I thought, ‘Look, I speak Spanish, but I don’t read it,’” the 60-year-old said of her decision to enroll in the classes. She has five adult children who live in Mexico with families of their own.
“It’s better than everyone explaining to me,” she said of her new reading skills. “I’m happy. Just happy.”