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Alfonso Nevarez doesn’t like to eat Big Macs anymore.
For a time, that’s all Nevarez — who came to the U.S. from Mexico — could manage to order off the English menu at McDonald’s.
That was 30 years ago. Today, his English is pretty good. He can carry on an entire conversation without an interpreter, but the half dozen guys he works construction with at CU don’t speak a word of it.
The language barrier keeps the crew isolated from others on campus.
“We don’t really interact with students or faculty,” Nevarez said. “We basically just talk to each other.”
One student group is working to change that.
Throughout the semester, the organization Student Worker trains volunteers to provide English lessons to Spanish-speaking workers on campus. Student volunteers go though a brief training process and then work individually with staff members.
Student Worker is trying to get the support of departments on campus by asking supervisors to consider making English classes a part of the workers’ paid workday. This is already in progress for workers at the Rec Center and the dining halls.
Some believe English lessons are a way to improve cultural awareness and diversity on campus.
“There is a lot of hostility and disrespect toward service workers at CU- Boulder, and learning English as a second language is a great way to make communities more connected,” said Professor Arturo Aldama, of the Ethnic Studies department, who guided students in establishing the program.
School officials said the ability to speak English is not a requirement to be hired for some jobs at CU, leaving a large number of staff members unable to communicate with the majority of people on campus.
“Depending on the position and area, it is not necessary for all service employees to speak English,” said Trent DeLong, a representative from the Human Resources office.
Statistics from the CU office of Information and Analysis show that 71 percent of CU service and maintenance staff members are minorities and nearly 48 percent are Latino. It is not clear how many of them speak English.
Student Worker members said their goal is to enhance communication on campus to foster a more welcoming environment.
The volunteer program has caught the interest of a number of CU students.
“We’ve had an overwhelming number of students contact us interested in volunteering,” said Patrick Kelsall, 21, a junior sociology major and member of Student Worker. “We didn’t really expect it to be this popular.”
Student Worker uses the nonprofit organization Intercambio as a teaching resource for training students to tutor staff members. Intercambio works to build respectful communities and broaden opportunities for immigrants through language education.
Volunteers are required to go through four to six hours of training with Intercambio. They are given background information about program, and curriculum and tips for teaching English.
A Spanish background is not needed in order to provide English lessons to staff members, a Student Worker members said.
“Students interested do not need to be bilingual to teach,” said Taylor Levy, a senior International Affairs major and representative of Student Worker. “It is set up in a way to immerse people in the language by allowing them to hear primarily English during the entire lesson.”
Student Worker is located in UMC 123 and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Sarah Ruybalid at Sarah.Ruybalid@colorado.edu