Nuns bring good habits to VC Adult Education Center ESL class

Aug. 16, 2014 at 2:06 p.m.

Over the years, the Victoria College Adult Education Center's English as a Second Language course has taught a variety of students. While all of these students want to learn how to read, write and speak English, one particular group stands out for their good habits.

They have good study habits.

They have a habit of being on time and ready to learn.

And they wear their habits to class.

These students are sisters of the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Mary. They have taken ESL classes while working and living in Victoria. Most of the nuns come from New Jersey, California and Arizona.

A large number of them are originally from Mexico and came to the U.S. to serve in different parishes.

"About four years ago, we had a couple of local sisters in one of our fall/spring ESL classes," recalled Debbie Janysek, Adult Education Center lead instructor. "In the spring, one of them asked if there was a way we could offer a class in July. We asked how many students would be involved and found out there would be 10 to 15."

The free three-week class met three to four days a week in July and was structured strictly for the sisters for the first two years. Last summer, the course was opened to secular students, who now take the ESL class alongside the nuns.

"Those (secular) students really benefited from being there with the nuns," Janysek said. "They are very helpful. We had a brave Spanish-speaking man who knew no English. The sisters mothered him, helped him, and he really did well."

In previous years, there were about 25 nuns who took advantage of the ESL course. Because of reassignments in their organization, only six nuns attended this year.

The class takes absolute beginners and offers different learning levels. It begins with pictures, vocabulary and simple survival phrases such as 'My name is,' 'I am from' and 'Hello, how are you?'" Half of the students' time is spent in class doing conversation, reading and writing activities while the second half is held in the computer lab improving their computer skills.

"At first, it was a little hard, but with more practice, it gets easier a little at a time," said Sister Juana Ramirez, of Mexico. "In the beginning, I didn't understand the computer program, but Mrs. Debbie helped me understand how to use it."

Sister Raibella Becerril, also from Mexico, found it easy to read English and practices her language skills at home.

"I speak more English now," Becerril said. "I even took a message for one of the sisters on the telephone."

Janysek said the nuns have good study habits, determination and a perfect attendance record.

"They work hard and want to learn," she said. "They are like sponges: They absorb the material and always come to class prepared. They are very joyous, very loving, and they share that with everybody.

"They motivate the other students and command respect when they walk in the door," she added. "It helps the atmosphere of the center."

Janysek taught the course in previous years. This year, new instructor Pearce Barnum is teaching it.

Barnum noted some of her students are better at writing in English, and some are better at speaking English.

"I'm trying to get them out of their comfort zone," she said with a smile. "Most of them come back to take the course and learn more of the language."

Barnum, whose second language is Spanish, said the sisters are enjoyable to teach.

"I wish we had more of them," she added.

Janysek emphasized that ESL students cannot learn a language in just three weeks.

"It usually takes about five to seven years," she said.

Students in the ESL course have improved and can try out their knowledge of the English language in the community, "some more easily than others," she added.

After the students leave the Adult Education Center, the computer program continues throughout the year. They can keep learning as long as they have access to a computer and the Internet, Janysek said.



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