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West Valley City empowers English learners through recognition

Published December 6, 2012 12:38 pm

Record number • More than 650 adults have graduated from ESL classes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • Rabia Mujadidi clutched the certificate to her chest, delicately flattening the wrinkles caused by the curious grasp of her 4-year-old daughter.

The Afghan mother of one was among the roughly 30 adult students whom the West Valley City council honored on Nov. 20 with the English Achievement Award for completing English as a Second Language classes.

In all, more than 650 adults graduated from ESL courses in the past six months—a record number. And while the semiannual recognition ceremony may not be a big thing, Mayor Mike Winder said, it is a way to publicly convey the city's appreciation for the efforts of its residents.

"When the government authorities are applauding their efforts to do something, it feels safe, they're motivated to do it," he said. "It's a small ceremony and a certificate, but it's official recognition that your mayor and councilor are proud of you and proud of what you're doing."

Mujadidi said she appreciated the recognition, but she's never been one to lack motivation. She left home for Pakistan at age 7 for school, and during those 13 years she received her first lessons in English. Because of her experiences, Mujadidi said she's not one to be afraid of anything and that her self-confidence grows as she learns more of the language.

"When you can speak English, you will solve your problems by yourself," she said. "You don't need to ask other people to translate your problems."

Mujadidi knows something about translating problems. She worked for a time as an interpreter for Americans in Afghanistan, but she said it was her role as an interpreter in her own home that taught her the most about communication. Her father is deaf and mute, and it fell to Mujadidi to help him navigate his world of hand signals. Her daughter will soon start preschool, and Mujadidi said it is likewise important that she be prepared to help her with her schoolwork and with the language.

"[Children] need to talk with their mom and dad," Mujadidi said. "So when I'm speaking good to my daughter, she also speaks good. When I'm not, she gets confused or sad or nervous."

Marjorie Acevedo, a Salvadoran woman who has been in the Unites States for more than 20 years, also expressed a desire to help her family as she betters herself. She said learning English has been a long and difficult process, but she's kept at it primarily to improve communication with her children.

"It's hard to come to school every day, but I try because I want to learn," Acevedo said. "I want a better life."

Acevedo's goal mirrors that of West Valley City, Councilman Steve Buhler said. Buhler, who was instrumental in establishing the English Achievement Award, said encouraging residents to learn a common language will complement all of the great things that their melting-pot city already boasts.

"While we appreciate their background, the diversity, their culture, the foods, the traditions that they bring, for us to really be cohesive and be a community we all need to speak one language," he said.

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At a glance

According to the 2010 census, 31 percent of West Valley City residents speak a language other than English in the home and 45 percent are ethnic minorities.

The West Valley City Council established the English Achievement Award to recognize the work of its resident students and teachers to build a more unified community through English as a Second Language courses.

A record 650-plus students completed West Valley City ESL classes in the past six months, and roughly 30 attended the recognition ceremony on Nov. 20 to receive their completion certificate.