BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
A handful of Queens residents took a step towards American citizenship this weekend.
In an afternoon ceremony at the ARROW Community Center in Astoria, students of English as a Second Language and U.S. Citizenship test preparation at the Latin American Cultural Center of Queens (LACCQ) received certificates of completion.
Students graduating from the program on Saturday represented a wide range of native countries, from Colombia to Tibet.
The program, which runs every Saturday for three months at ARROW, is taught by Aida Gonzalez-Jarrin, a Queens resident and State-certified teacher. She said that many of her students take the U.S. citizenship test right after completing the course, although registration for the test is not a requirement – students are accepted to the program with no restrictions.
“There is a need [for this program] in the community,” Gonzalez-Jarrin said. “Especially Queens being a borough of immigrants, so many immigrants from so many parts of the world that need to become integrated, that need to gain power through language.”
According to Gonzalez-Jarrin, the most rewarding aspect of teaching English as a Second Language and citizenship test preparation is hearing how improved English has changed her students’ lives.
“They come to me after a week of work and say, ‘oh, teacher, I was able to use this sentence and that sentence in my office, and they understood me,’” Gonzalez-Jarrin said. “There was one occasion where one student said, ‘I even asked for a raise following your vocabulary, and it worked.’”
Gonzalez-Jarrin added, “of course when they become citizens, it’s extremely rewarding. We actually have a little celebration, we take a picture, I present the student with an American flag.”
LACCQ President Nayibe Núñez-Berger started English as a Second Language and citizenship test classes about two decades ago.
“Learning English opens opportunities,” Núñez-Berger said. “It’s very important, even if the person has a big accent like mine, we are able to communicate and read and write, and also it helps the person feel more integrated into the community.”
“I think it is crucial that we give this opportunity to new immigrants,” Núñez-Berger added.
Student and Astoria resident Maria Potesta will be taking her citizenship test in two months. She said that because of this class, she feels prepared for the exam. Potesta plans to study medical assistance once she becomes naturalized.
“[Aida] is fanastic. The students really love her. She is very creative,” Núñez-Berger said. “She gives them information that they can use right now… she’s just wonderful.”
“I really like what Aida teach to us, because she helps a lot in all the history about the United States,” Potesta added. “She’s a very dedicated person.”
Of the graduation ceremony, Potesta said, “it was very interesting, very nice, beautiful.”
“We are friends like we are family,” she added, nodding to her classmates. “Everybody cooperates. We are family, we cooperate for all this.”
Immediately after the graduation, Gonazalez-Jarrin and her students sat down to keep working, reading as a group through a biography of Thomas Jefferson.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.