Karla Arganda believes students deserve the best quality education possible, no matter how old they are or what nationality they are.
Arganda is the Merced Adult School teacher assigned to the Community Based English Tutoring program run in cooperation with the Merced City School District. Forty-two adults are participating in the program at the district's Student and Family Service Center at 1180 E St.
Tzeng Saechao is a community outreach specialist for the city school district and is the computer lab coordinator. The program began in June 1998, initially at six school sites, and now is concentrated at the 11th Street complex.
Saechao said the tutoring is provided Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m. It is part of the district's parent-involvement policy, which covers education, participation and advocacy components.
Between 1998 and this year, 560 adults have participated in tutoring at the E Street campus.
"Parents receive many benefits that make it easy for them to attend school," Arganda said. "They receive free transportation and child care, basic technology training and English-as-a-second- language instruction. I believe the Merced CBET program will continue to be effective and successful if we continue to work together, communicate and work hard in order to better serve our students."
Along with learning English, students have access to a computer lab and use self-paced interactive software programs such as Rosetta Stone. Of the 42 current students, four are Southeast Asians and the others are Latino. Some have been in the program for four or five years.
Enrollment is open and class sizes fluctuate as students get jobs, move in and out of the area or have scheduling conflicts. Saechao said very few students have access to a computer at home or are comfortable at first using computers.
"Most are afraid of computers but once they get used to using a mouse, they are more comfortable," Saechao said. "Then they go onto keyboarding programs. I see parents who have been here a month or so tutor brand-new students. They are building relationships and building confidence. The sky's the limit for them."
Sandi Hamilton, the district's curriculum and categorical programs administrator, said the district pays the $18,000 part-time salary of the teacher and other incidental expenses. Other costs are shared by Merced Adult School.
Hamilton said the program is successful because of Saechao's efforts.
"It's due to Tzeng's commitment, conscientiousness and leadership to keep things running smoothly and successfully. It's empowering, getting the students outside their comfort zone," Hamilton said.
Paulina Mendoza has been in Merced seven years and in the tutoring program for a year. She has two daughters who are students at Charles Wright School.
Through a translator, she said she has improved considerably and can understand when somebody speaks English to her. She is afraid to speak it herself, but hopes to gain more confidence soon.
Saechao, 37, was born in Laos and came to Texas when he was 4 years old. He said the tutoring is more than learning English. The curriculum is tailored to the needs of the group and includes guest speakers.
Field trips have included visits to the Merced County Library, the Merced Fire Department to learn fire safety and the Hmong New Year to broaden cultural awareness.
Marina Perez has lived in Merced for 12 years. She has been in the program since June. Her children attend Weaver School and Golden Valley High School.
"I like the program. I want to improve and want to learn English," Perez said. "It's not too easy, but I am becoming more comfortable."
Perez said she tries to speak English with her children, and they tell her she needs more practice.
Annie Dossetti, the district's assistant superintendent for educational services, said the program is open to anyone as long as they pledge to tutor a student in classes ranging kindergarten through 12th grade, listen to them read and encourage them to do their homework.
She said most participants have children in local schools. Dossetti said the program opens doors for the students, and they begin to feel comfortable in a school setting.
Hamilton said research indicates that when parents are involved in their children's education, students do better.
And some of the parents do, too. Saechao said several students have gone on to Merced Adult School classes and received their GEDs.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.