The English as a Second Language class that is made available through a federal grant, held at Iowa Central Community College, is assisting students from 18 different countries.
The teachers find it enjoyable to teach the classes because the students are eager to learn the English language.
There are four levels of classes - from students who don't know any language to those with some English knowledge. The program has been growing by leaps and bounds with additional class times being added. Classes are held in the morning and the evening, Monday through Thursday.
"Most of the students are working, have families and are supporting relatives in another country. They are busy people and we try to accommodate them," said Korey Cantrell, teaching in the advanced area.
The students take part in a pretest when they enroll to determine their level of learning. Post-tests are taken to track improvement.
Speaking, writing and reading the language are all taught in the classes. Besides operating on government aid, Wal-Mart of Storm Lake recently donated $1,500 for the purchase of text and work books for the students to benefit from.
For everyone involved, patience is required. English is new to many of the students and the native languages of the students are often new to the teachers.
The students being seen at the learning center are coming from China, Laos, Taiwan, Micronesia, Ukraine, Sudan, Ethiopia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
English becomes the universal language quickly in the classroom - Lao students don't speak Spanish and Sudanese students don't speak Chinese.
"This situation forces them to speak English," said Cantrell.
Anna Mendez, who took part in the ESL courses at ICCC and graduated from them in 1996, felt so strongly about what she accomplished and so thankful for her teachers, that she wanted to volunteer to help those that are now in the same situation as she once was. That volunteer position turned into a paid position for her.
"It isn't hard work," she said of the beginner students she teaches. "They want to be here. I do enjoy what I am doing."
Linda Helmke is the literacy facilitator for the program. She also helps in enrollment, completing necessary reports and teaches. Lowell Fields has been a teacher with the program for eight years, Mary Kruz Flores is the office assistant and fills in where needed, and Jane Fahr completes the list of dedicated teachers. Julianna Smith teaches advanced ESL in the AAA classes held on the high school level (but open to college-age students as well.)
"Learning English is helpful for them," Cantrell said. "They know that will help them get better jobs, and better pay."
A spin-off class that has come from the ESL instruction is the citizenship program. Many students have been successful in earning their citizenship by taking part in the classes.
There are many stories that can be found among the students. Miguel Rosales has lived in the U.S. for 28 years and is studying for his citizenship. He has three daughters and a son-in-law that are taking part in the ESL classes.
Lidia Montiel has lived in the U.S. for 28 years. She hasn't taken any language classes until coming to Storm Lake. She said she has picked up some words from her children who have learned the language and by listening to music and watching television. She is enjoying learning and is dedicated to her work.
The teachers, she said, have helped her greatly and she is slowly learning the language.
Miguel Bautista has been in Storm Lake for eight months. He has been studying English for two years but up until recently, has felt nervous about speaking the language. He was made aware of the ESL program by his dad who took part in classes three years ago and was quite impressed with what went on in the small classrooms.
Miguel is quite close to receiving his college degree from a university in Mexico. He is currently completing classes over the internet and when he is done, he will have a degree in international business. He will He also is taking classes at Buena Vista University and has hopes of earning a management degree from there someday.
His ultimate goal is to be a CEO for an international company.
Bounthsnom Khamvilay is one of five sisters who left their home country of Laos to live in Storm Lake. They left their parents and two younger sisters at home. another sister lives in Sioux City.
She knew a small amount of English when she came; as a child she lived with her family for eight years in California. The family returned to Loas when she was 8. She is happy to be back in the U.S.
As the oldest of the sisters in SL, she is responsible for all of them. "It is a big job," she said. "Everything is in English here. We need to know it when we go to the store and when we drive," she said, adding that with two sisters in high school and she and another taking ESL classes, they help each other to learn the language, which is often difficult.
"I try to do the best I can. I want to learn."
Cantrell concluded, "It is very rewarding for us to see the growth of the students, especially when the start talking about their future. That's why we're here. We're here for them."