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Gadsden district helps students' parents earn citizenship
SAN LUIS, Ariz.– Nora Rivas is confident that in a few months, she'll be able to respond in English to the officers she meets at the U.S. Port of Entry on her return from visits to Mexico.
And she also expects to be able to identify herself as a U.S. citizen.
Rivas is among 54 adults who are studying English and preparing for their naturalization exams as participants in a citizenship class the Gadsden Elementary School District offers each year to parents of the district's students.
"We just got started (in the class) in August, and I feel like I understand the (Customs and Border Protection) officers and that I can respond to the questions, even when they ask them in English. Before, I didn't know any English, but now I can at least say where I live and say my name," said Rivas, a legal U.S. resident for the past 26 years.
But her main goal is to earn citizenship, she said, and "be able to vote in order to better serve my community. I'm already a volunteer with the police department (in San Luis). Here I am going to learn English, but the main thing is to be able to vote."
The latest round of classes began Aug. 16, but slots remain for additional parents who want to take part.
"(Parents) can join the class at any time," said Jose Luis Reynoso, vice principal at Southwest Junior High School in San Luis, who teaches it. "There's no cost, and even the classroom supplies are provided."
Through federal funding provided by the Title I and Century 21st programs, the district has been offering the class for 10 years, but participation jumped significantly just recently, after the district made the class times more convenient for parents who have day jobs, he said.
"The priority for the people is to bring home income," said Reynoso, "so we made ourselves more flexible to their scheduling needs."
Besides offering evening sessions at Southwest Junior High, the district now offers a morning citizenship class at Rio Colorado Elementary School.
Among the students in the classes is Maria Guerra, a single mother of four children who said she had put off seeking citizenship for years.
"I've been a resident for 12 years," she said. "I didn't try to become a citizen because I didn't know that there was a program like this, and I was busy with work and at home."
Parents who learn English and earn citizenship are more likely to take interest in their children's education and to push them to excel in school, Reynoso said.
"We tell them that the schools are theirs," he said. "Here they not only learn English and prepare for citizenship, but they learn about the rights they have as parents and the commitment they have with their children being in school."
For more information about the classes, Reynoso can be reached at Southwest Junior High, at 627-6581.