Night classes open at Garrison Middle School

Classes, which run through February, include language and high-school equivalency courses.

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WALLA WALLA -- From a classroom at Garrison Middle School, Refugio Reyes went over the basics with his seven pupils Monday night.

"What is your name?" he asked, slowly and accentuating each word, before commanding todos -- everyone -- to repeat.

The voices of the adults were quiet at first, but grew stronger as Reyes insisted on a second and third try.

The class was a first-year English as a second language course, one of the main draws of the Garrison Night School program that kicks off this week.

With about 15 years since it was established, the program continues to draw area residents looking to improve their language skills or earn a high school equivalent, or GED certificate.

The program is coordinated through Walla Walla Public Schools and Walla Walla Community College, who partner to instruct the classes and run a chid care program for children 3 and older to coincide with the classes.

This year's courses include a range of English courses that go from beginner to advanced, as well as the high school equivalent classes. There are also sections of Spanish classes for residents who would benefit either personally or in their employment by learning Spanish.

Diana Erickson, bilingual coordinator for the School District, is also the night school's coordinator. The nights typically draw large participation from native Spanish-speakers who are looking to improve their daily lives and employment opportunities by learning English more intensively.

There is also a free parenting class, on how to be an effective parent and leader, for immigrant parents who have arrived in the country in the last three years.

More than 100 people had already registered for classes prior to the start of the program, with as many as 50 expected to sign up during the week, Erickson said.

The program's biggest perk may be the free child care that is provided to children ages 3 and older as part of the program. From Garrison's open cafeteria space, close to two dozen children of varying ages were either reading books out-loud or listening to one being read as the adult classes got started.

Some School District employees run the program, while a series of volunteers, including members of the Walla Walla High School Latino Club, also lend a hand.

Erickson said the child care follows a structure that starts with a literacy focus, and also includes help with homework, math exercises, and wrapping up with recreation in the school's gym.

Melito Ramirez is the site supervisor for the night school, and intervention specialist at Wa-Hi.

As the night progressed, he stood near the entrance to help people find their classrooms and answer questions.

Ramirez said he was inspired by the dedication local residents show in coming to the school, particularly to learn English or prepare for the GED with the goal of improving their lives.

He said he had talked to two men attending the school who were there to be able to speak with their employers. Both men worked in the wine industry, enjoyed their work, but felt limited.

"They love it so much, but they can't communicate," he said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

About Garrison Night School

Garrison Night School runs through February. Classes are Monday through Thursday from about 6 to 8 p.m. at Garrison Middle School, 906 Chase St.

Registration is open throughout the length of the program, with ESL and GED classes costing $25 and Spanish language classes costing $150 for 38-40 hours of instruction. Free child care is provided for children 3 and older who are toilet trained.

A free parenting course geared for recently arrived immigrants is being held Monday and Tuesday from 5-6 p.m.

To register, visit Walla Walla Public Schools district offices at 364 S. Park St, or stop by Garrison during night school hours.

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