Sheng L. Xiong came to the United States in 2004 with her husband and six children. She describes that time: “When I arrived in Fresno, California, I didn’t speak any English, couldn’t drive, couldn’t go to the store, and just looked out the window all day and night. I was crying, and my life was miserable.”
In 2007, Sheng’s family moved to Eau Claire and she began to learn English in Literacy Volunteers’ Family Literacy program. Sheng started in the beginner group, and at that time she couldn’t drive, read, or write. School was especially challenging for Sheng because as a child in Laos she had to stay home to do farm work. Family Literacy was her very first school.
Sheng said, “I have to study English hard to be able to support my family because my husband can’t drive and isn’t able to support the family due to his physical disability.” Five years later, Sheng had her driver’s license and had become a U.S. citizen. She proudly keeps a notebook of the certificates she has completed, including CPR, Child Care, Nursing Assistant, and ServSafe (food safety). She gained confidence to obtain her first job in 2011, working at the Career Development Center. As her speaking skills improved, she found better paying employment and now works second shift at Ashley Furniture. Sheng continues to attend Family Literacy’s morning class whenever she can and, with improved reading and writing scores, she has moved up to our highest class.
In the fall of 2011, Sheng’s husband Nhiage joined Family Literacy to also learn English. The next spring he became concerned when he visited their four-year-old son Kevin in his Head Start classroom and found that although Kevin was learning to read, he was too shy to go to the Reader’s Chair and read to his classmates. Nhiage decided he would learn to read a children’s book and demonstrate reading for his son. Still a beginner himself, Nhiage practiced reading with his own teacher and classmates. When the day came to read to his child’s class, Nhiage was so nervous that he was shaking and sweat dripped from his brow. But he proudly made it through. The very next day, Kevin went to the Readers’ Chair and read a book to his class!
Sheng’s and Nhiage’s education has had a great impact on their youngest children, who are now in second and third grade and do not need any special services for English Language Learners (ELL). Their six older children needed ELL support throughout elementary school, despite being hard-working students like their parents.
Last year the Xiong family applied to buy a home through Habitat for Humanity, and they now have a home of their own. We wish them continued success in their new home.
When she started to study at Family Literacy, Isabella spoke little English and writing was difficult. She enrolled in the beginning English group and was very excited to have the opportunity to attend school. Isabella’s attendance was very consistent, and after just five months at the basic level she had made a lot of progress. She advanced to the next level, which concentrates on written language and emphasizes grammar and spelling. For eighteen months she has continued to work hard in this intermediate level class and has also completed the elective food handler class. She is very proud to have passed the ServSafe test to earn a Food Handler Certificate. Weekly tutoring sessions with her volunteer tutor have helped improved her oral language skills, and her English speaking ability showed a significant increase on standardized testing this spring.
Isabella’s children are all benefitting from having their mother learn English and attend parenting classes. She is a hard working student, and she is teaching her six-year-old daughter Marie to work hard, too. Isabella consistently incorporates both English and Spanish vocabularies into daily conversations with Marie. Isabella’s improved speaking, reading, and writing skills, also help her communicate with Isabella’s teachers.
Her daughter Amy began attending Family Literacy’s Early Childhood Program with her mother when she was just a year old. Amy was very shy and quiet and knew only a few words of English, and it took a long time for her to interact with the early childhood teachers. Just six months later, Amy was happily participating with her caregivers, and when she was moved up to the Toddler Room she adjusted quickly. Isabella has focused on helping Amy develop language and has developed techniques such as counting stairs: one flight in English and the next in Spanish. Amy is developing a strong English vocabulary and becoming confident and outgoing.
By the end of the school year, Isabella’s English and her confidence had increased dramatically. She no longer needs a translator’s help for appointments at the Health Department or conferences with her children’s teachers. We celebrate Isabella's successes with her.