Alejandro came to the US from Mexico City in 2014. When he came here, Alejandro started out living with a friend for three months and working a temp job to prepare for his family’s arrival.
When he arrived to Minnesota, learning English was a top priority for him. “My English was very, very bad. It’s very important to learn English—communication is important! I also wanted to make sure that my children had a father who learned the language.” Once his family was settled, he began taking English classes. A friend told him that Neighborhood House was the best place for people to learn English, so he enrolled in Neighborhood House’s Adult Education program.
Like many others learning English as a second language, he didn’t have the luxury of going to school full time, so he’s taking classes and working, all at the same time.
If working, going to school and being a husband to Diana and father to Alejandro (6) and Miranda (4) isn’t enough to juggle, Alejandro is also earning his license to become a massage therapist. Although he was licensed in Mexico, he needs a license in the state of Minnesota to work in the field. Back in April, he began attending the School of Massage in St. Paul for a one-year training. Even though he has to repeat the classes he’s already taken, he said it’s for the best. “These classes are in English and sometimes I get lost. Learning about muscles, nerves, the skeletal system and bones is harder in another language, but it’s a good challenge.”
Now in his third year at Neighborhood House, he studies with Teacher Kaija and he’s a big fan of her teaching style. “She’s very passionate and kind. If you don’t understand something, she takes her time helping each student. She is really amazing,” Alejandro said. “I can only study about 10-15 minutes per day because of my schedule. I felt like I should be doing more, but she was very understanding. She told me, ‘Don’t worry—you’re trying.’ That was an important thing to hear!”
He said Kaija’s encouragement has helped him progress quickly. “Alejandro has moved up through several levels in a few years—from beginning to high beginning, to intermediate and then to advanced English,” said Kaija. “For a student to move from beginning to advanced is very exceptional. It basically means he’s moved from no English to college-level English…it’s very impressive.”
Not only is he bright academically, she said that Alejandro is also a delightful person to have in class. “He knows everyone’s name, brings snacks, and brought us pencils and erasers to share in the classroom,” she said. “He also has a lot of grace when he works with the other students, and does a really good job of listening and soliciting opinions,” she said. “His presence is great for the classroom as he fosters ideas and teamwork.”
While her daddy is in English class, Alejandro’s daughter Miranda attends our Skills for School preschool program.
And, according to Teacher Amanda, she already demonstrates many skills typically associated with kindergarten readiness. She recognizes all 26 letters in the English alphabet, counts past 20 with ease, prints her name, and speaks in increasingly complex sentences in both English and Spanish.
“Miranda is a lot of fun to work with in the classroom and has a great sense of humor. She likes to tell what she calls ‘jokes,’” said Teacher Amanda. “She often says to me out of the blue, ‘Teacher Amanda, there’s a bug on your head!” And then quickly follows up with ‘Just joking!’ She loves to make her teachers and classmates laugh.”
Miranda also has lofty career goals, which Teacher Amanda is certain she will achieve. “She’s told her teachers she’s going to be a doctor when she grows up. She enjoys dressing up in our pretend lab coats with a stethoscope and thermometer and takes care of the “sick” students and teachers in the classroom.
At age six, Alejandro, Jr. is too big for Skills for School, but is enjoying his summer at Neighborhood House’s summer camp. His dad says he can speak English and Spanish—and Chinese. “If he speaks well, the whole world opens to him,” he said. “He’s also taught his sister a little bit of Chinese—she knows numbers, colors and names of some food in Chinese!”
Alejandro said he’ll keep taking English classes for at least two to three more years.
“When I came here, I only knew a few words. Now, I can actually speak the language—it’s amazing.”