University program helps middle schoolers learn English

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PARKVILLE, Mo. --  Many children of immigrants believe hard work will bring success. That often means dropping out of school and getting right into the workforce. Now, a unique partnership is helping middle schoolers struggling to learn English stay in school and even target college as attainable.

Park University is reaching out to middle schoolers who are learning English as a second language. Seventh and 8th graders from Lakeview Middle School have never been on a college campus before now.

Their teacher says many of them already have told her they're eager to end their schooling.

"A lot of students don't plan on going to college," said Lisa Abbott, the ESL teacher at the school. "Some do. Some have parents who have already attended college but a lot them plan on working after graduation."

The middle school students learning English as a second language represent 14 different nations. Abbott said 10 languages are considered native tongues in the class. Abbott helped develop a partnership with Park University so her immigrant students could meet international college kids also learning English.

The middle schoolers exchange emails with their college counterparts, who serve as role models to show them that continuing their education can provide more options for them.

"When I first came here I didn't speak one word of English," said Efrem Shimlis, mens soccer coach at Park University. "So it was hard. I can understand that it could be frustrating when things are hard. You don't want to deal with things. Going to class. I used to skip class and run away from school."

Seeing older students face the same challenges they are has helped some of these middle schoolers recognize heading straight into the workforce may not be the best route for achieving their American dream.

"I think it's kind of interesting," said Fernanda Belsaguy, an 8th grader at Lakeview. "Because it's good to know you are not the only person who doesn't speak English 100 percent. You are not by your own. It's awesome to know that people can understand you."

Belsaguy said she understands good jobs require a college education. Park University hopes that other colleges will reach out to younger immigrants and show them that through education America truly can be the land of opportunity.

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