Irma Gonzalez was orphaned at the age of eight. She had to drop out of school in the second grade to help provide for her siblings. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago and was nonliterate in her native language. Irma began attending OLC classes through a pilot program at a Tyson plant in April of 2016. When she first started coming to class she did not speak any English. She and her instructor we were only able to communicate through a few Spanish words and the help of Google Translate. She came to class prepared with a few sheets of paper and a pocket dictionary that has survived floods and fires, and only has a fraction of the pages left. She didn’t know what the words in the dictionary said, but she has been studying them since she was a girl.
Irma and her teacher Brandi began with the English alphabet. Within two weeks, Irma recognized every letter and their sounds. She and Brandi both cried when she had all 26 letters. In the following weeks, she began sounding out words. Irma was beginning to read! This 57 year old woman read her first words at 5 A.M., an hour before her shift started, and after a night of raising three of her grandchildren. Irma and Brandi now have basic conversations and Irma is picking up more vocabulary each day. She practices her reading skills with children’s books that she reads with her eight-year-old granddaughter every night. She says hello to her coworkers who don’t speak Spanish. She tells Brandi she loves her every morning when they part ways. On Tuesday, June 28, Irma made her first doctor’s appointment by herself. She went in and filled out the forms, in English, for the first time unassisted. The things many people can take for granted, like being able to do simple tasks without having to ask for help, are now becoming a possibility for Irma.
Irma attends ESL class at the Tyson plant at 4:30 in the morning before she starts her 12-hour shift. At the end of her shift, she goes home and takes care of three children and her household. Without this program, she wouldn’t have a chance to take an English class. 4:30 in the morning is the only extra time she has; she is far too busy to attend class at any other time.