Northeast Tarrant

When students become teachers

Student Evelyn Reyes-Marquez, left, works with Teresa Ruiz, right, on English vocabulary as five members of the custodial staff at Trinity High School learn English in a weekly class taught by students who are members of the Spanish Honor Society.
Student Evelyn Reyes-Marquez, left, works with Teresa Ruiz, right, on English vocabulary as five members of the custodial staff at Trinity High School learn English in a weekly class taught by students who are members of the Spanish Honor Society. Star-Telegram

Custodian Rodrigo Bastidas gets a little misty-eyed when he talks about learning English.

The 67-year-old native of Colombia didn’t finish elementary school in South America, but in Euless, he is learning to talk, read and write in English.

His teachers are students at Trinity High School, where he works.

“Even though we have been here for years, one hasn’t had the opportunity to go to school,” he said in Spanish, his voice cracking with emotion.

Every Wednesday he is among five Trinity High School custodians who get one-on-one English instruction from student tutors, who are either volunteers or members of the campus’ Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica (Spanish Honor Society).

Tutors and students meet at 3 p.m. in room N206, otherwise known as Judy Schaefer’s class. The teenaged tutors patiently teach the “ABCs” of the English language. Bastidas and his fellow custodians show the students what it means to build a community.

“Whenever I see them in the hall, we say: ‘Hello. How are you doing?’” said Elizabeth Miralrio, 18, a senior who is helping with the English classes.

Miralrio added: “This program is really good. I hope it grows.”

Celebrating diversity

The English classes are described as a perfect fit for a campus that celebrates its diversity. The Spanish-speaking custodians come from Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico.

The Trinity High School community touts a sense of family. There are about 2,400 students in grades 10-12. And while the school’s Tongan population is the most visible, more than 40 different “home languages” are spoken by students.

“We have a mini-United Nations here,” Principal Mike Harris said. “We pretty much have someone from everywhere.”

The English classes began in fall 2013 after Trinity’s head custodian, Charles Clark, approached Schaefer. Clark wanted to find a way to help Spanish-speaking custodians learn English.

“Educating is what we do regardless of the age,” Harris said. “It was a great opportunity for our students to have an opportunity to be teachers.”

The tutors are able to perfect their Spanish while giving back to the community, Harris said.

“It’s an incredible opportunity on all sides of the desk,” he said, explaining that the classes ushered an important role reversal.

“We got to help those who typically help us,” Harris said, adding that this project ensures that the workers who clean and maintain the classrooms aren’t invisible.

“Every single person who works here is important,” Harris said. “Every job matters, and every job has an impact on the students and their futures.”

‘Happy to be learning English’

The English learners arrive at class with letter flash cards, worksheets, composition notebooks and shy smiles.

They are greeted with tutors who offer personal encouragement.

David Miralrio, 18, a senior member of the Spanish Honor Society, often serves as interpreter for his parents. He said his immigrant parents had little resources or time to study English because they were working and raising five children.

Miralrio tutors because he wants to help people struggling with the language barriers he saw at home.

“Being in a new school, a new country, you name it, it’s very foreboding,” Miralrio said. “You almost feel isolated because you don’t know how to communicate.”

Many Spanish-speaking immigrants have tons of questions but can’t ask them because they struggle with English, Miralrio said.

“I am very happy to be learning English,” said Maria Lopez, 63, who has worked at Trinity for 12 years. “It is very important to know English.”

Lopez and her classmates said they are learning — little by little.

Bastidas said the lessons are also helping him improve his Spanish skills. He explained that he didn’t have much schooling while growing up in South America.

“My mother died. I had problems. I left my home very young. I was raised in the streets,” Bastidas said, explaining that he came to the United States after his oldest son settled in Texas.

Bastidas said he knows some words, but gets frustrated when he can’t express himself.

But in Schaefer’s class, the English learners found patient teachers.

“I like helping,” said Evelyn Reyes-Marquez, 17, a senior. “I like the moment when they understand something and it has this light bulb effect.”

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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