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This editorial is presented to you by me, as I surf the wave of ignorance.  I voted for English immersion.

English classes worth the wait Friday, January 22, 2003
Rob Haneisen Metrowest Daily News
Despite the state economic crunch and pressures on local budgets, it makes economic sense to educate new immigrants in the English language.

The program costs $600,000, with 80 percent of that sum coming from the state, while local budgets and charitable donations bringing in the remainder.  Adult ESL is not on the chopping block now, but it seems like a program voters and the masses might blindly shoot down or ask legislators to nix.

Voters rashly axed bilingual education in a fit of anti-immigrant balloting last year.  The entire discussion of bilingual education hardly touched on what was in the best interest of school children.  It was the "Don't sue teachers" crowd vs. the "Speak English, you are in America now" crowd.

It's that same wave of ignorance that I fear will endanger adult English as a Second Language funding.  There are those that feel their tax dollars are being wasted on people who didn't bother to learn the "national language" before coming here to work and start families.

But to make the assumption that non-English speaking residents are a burden is even more of a reason to preserve adult ESL and other programs that bring new immigrants into the fold.

New immigrants who learn language skills are more employable.   They will have better job stability and be more constructive members of our society.  Immigrants who learn even the basic elements of English get along more safely in the English-language world.  Think traffic signs, prescription labels and directions.

"Anything we can do to educate these people benefits the community as a whole," said Christine Taylor, director of the Framingham ESL program.

Taylor said bilingual education's apparent demise via the voters makes adult ESL even more important.

"If you educate the parent you are educating the children," she said.

And educating immigrants helps them reinvest in the community by buying homes, starting businesses, and eventually running for local boards and committees -- a place they are largely absent.

"And that is what will make us a stronger community economically and socially," Taylor said.

This morning and Saturday morning, hundreds of immigrants will line up outside Grace Church and Fuller Middle School to enter a lottery for slightly more than 100 openings in the classes.

Program officials estimate more than 500 will vie for the slots.  Already, more than 400 are on waiting lists for the popular 32-week program.  Students not only learn English but also get counseling on how to find housing, paying bills and finding health care.  Last year, ESL students in Framingham were from 32 different countries and spoke 12 different languages.  More than 60 percent of the students were from Brazil, 14 percent came from the former Soviet Union, another 14 percent from Spanish-speaking countries and 3.7 percent from China.

But these students all have one thing in common:  A desire to better themselves in this country by learning English.  That's the same desire wave upon wave of immigrants have harbored when they arrived in this country.

However, adult ESL was not available for the Eastern Europeans and Italians and Germans and others when they and their ancestors arrived generations ago. The result is a level of resentment and backlash from those whose grandparents had to struggle to get by in a foreign country.

We are a nation of immigrants whose challenge now is to understand that assimilation of our newest neighbors can be improved upon.  Depriving them of all the hardships of our ancestors does not make them less worthy of citizenship or other benefits of living in this country.

In a perfect world there would be no shortage of funds to expand the adult ESL program so that all those willing can receive.  In these times of fiscal crunch, I'll settle for the program being level-funded.

(Rob Haneisen is the central regional editor for the MetroWest Daily News.  He can be reached at 508-626-3882 or rhaneis@cnc.com.)

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