Before entering Pittsburg High School last fall, Joel Garcia knew approximately 20 English words.
Garcia, a sophomore at PHS, is one of hundreds of Spanish-speaking USD 250 students who are learning English through the district's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. He is also one of approximately 40 USD 250 ESOL students participating in this summer's ESOL Summer School at Meadowlark Elementary School.
Nine months after his first formal education in the English langauge, Garcia can now carry on fluent conversations with his friends and teachers.
"The progress I've seen him make is amazing," Elizabeth Sandell, an ESOL paraeducator who spends most of her day with Garcia, said. "Learning another language is a long, slow process, but he has really picked it up much quicker than would most students his age."
Garcia admits that he still has much to learn, and that there are some English words that continue to give him trouble.
"I think pronounciation is the hardest part," he said, "but I know this is good for me. Learning English has helped me a lot, and it's important to learn."
While Garcia isn't alone on his journey to master the English language, his story is unique. Most students in the ESOL program begin in elementary school, a time when the language lessons are more simple and easier to grasp. Starting at the high school level can be more difficult, as the vocabulary is expanded and many concepts are more complex.
"In high school, the English language lessons are more intensive," Sandell said. "It's a time when the students are expected to understand more abstract concepts. It's easier for those students who began learning the language at a young age, but for students like Joel, who didn't begin until high school, it can be quite difficult at times to grasp it all."
Garcia's story is also unique in that, without the need to learn English, he most likely would not be a PHS student. His family resides in Mulberry, which places them in the Northeast USD 246 district. However, because the USD 250 ESOL program is a necessity for his educational progress, Garcia attends PHS.
"I need to learn English because it's what everyone else is speaking, and it will help me get a job after school is over," Garcia said. "As I learn English, communicating with others becomes much easier."
Garcia, who rides and works with horses in his spare time, said he would like to continue to work with animals as a career when his school days are complete.