Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Supermom learns English to support her son's education

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Geisiane's graduation from the ESOL Program
Before she first came to the Spanish Catholic Center, Geisiane’s English was limited to words like “fever” and “temperature” for when she had to take her son Nicholas, now 8, to the doctor. “I was too embarrassed about my English to talk to anyone,” she said.

Now, less than a year after her graduation from the SCC’s English for Speakers of OtherLanguages (ESOL) program, Geisiane speaks in rapid and enthusiastic English. She also took advantage of the Center’s career development program, learning how to budget, improve her credit rating, prepare resumes, and even start a college fund for Nicholas, where she tucks away 50 percent of her income.

“I know God opened the doors to the Spanish Catholic Center for me,” she said. “After I began coming here, I was able to do things for myself.  I didn’t need to wait for people to translate things for me.”

Geisiane emigrated 14 years ago from Brazil, where her family was very poor. “Sometimes we had food, and sometimes we didn’t. I wanted more than that,” she said. She got her visa and came to the United States in 1997, and immediately found work – first as a dishwasher, and later as a housecleaner, a job she continues to this day.

Geisiane is now a volunteer at the SCC!
She married and later had her son, Nicholas, of whom she fondly says, “He is my life. He is my dream, my boy.” However, when Nicholas was still just a baby, her marriage fell apart, leaving her a new, single mother in a place where she was still struggling to communicate. Geisiane worked hard to make it work, including bringing Nicholas along with her to the houses she cleaned.

But when Nicholas started school, Geisiane knew it was time to get serious about learning English. “I wanted to be able to use the language he used at school, and help him with his homework at night.” A friend recommended the ESOL program at the Spanish Catholic Center, where she completed three 11-week cycles of English classes. The Center offers programs at all levels of competency, from Beginner I and II to advanced English grammar.

“There was a huge change in her English skills,” said Kathy Diaz, ESOL Coordinator at the SCC’s Gaithersburg location. “And in terms of her commitment, she was a very good student. She always took part in activities and trips – for example, to the library – to help her improve even more.”

Kathy said Geisiane was also an active participant in the family literacy component of the ESOL class, which teaches parents interactive activities to support their child’s reading and writing comprehension in an English-speaking environment. Geisiane’s immersion in the language through these diverse outlets increased her fluency and confidence in English. Her son’s English is even better – “Nicholas corrects me when I make a mistake! I am still learning new things about the language every day,” she said.

And Geisiane loves to learn. “When I first came to the United States, my dream was to buy a house and make money. But I’ve found that money is to pay the bills. You can have money, and then you can lose it. More than money is education. No one can take this from you.”

Today, she is a regular volunteer at the Spanish Catholic Center, where she is learning administrative and accounting skills. “I’m the clown here when I visit, laughing and joking with everyone, but when I volunteer, I am serious about my work,” she said. “Volunteering here is an opportunity to give a little in return for everything the Center did for me.”

Nicholas, a third-grader, has inherited his mother’s love of learning. Geisiane’s biggest dream is to see him graduate from college, and he already has his university picked out. He went with Geisiane when she was housecleaning a place near Georgetown University, and Geisiane says it was love at first sight. Her boss’s daughter even gave him a stuffed Jack the Bulldog, Georgetown’s mascot, as inspiration for his dream.

“I tell him he has to study hard and work hard, if he wants to go to Georgetown.” 

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