- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Zenon Cossio arrived in the United States 18 months ago from Bolivia knowing he needed to understand English to get a good job and hopeful he would find some classes where he could learn.
But he and hundreds of other would-be students were turned away from Arlington County's adult English as a second language program because of a lack of funds.
Nearly 250 people showed up at Arlington Mill Center Monday, hoping to get one of the roughly 100 spaces still available, said Kathleen Reich of the Arlington Education and Employment Program. The program has 425 spaces, but the long waiting list from an earlier enrollment had filled up nearly 300 of those.
"I just cannot afford to wait another six weeks" for the next enrollment, Mr. Cossio, 65, said through a translator, his voice desperate as he looked around for a volunteer who might be able to guide him to an alternative.
The ESL program has 6,000 spaces every year, but hundreds are turned away every time enrollment opens, said Inaam Mansoor, director of the ESL program. It would take another four classes, at an estimated cost of $4,000 per class, to accommodate the nearly 100 students who were turned away, Mrs. Mansoor said.
The ESL classes are paid for with county, state and federal funds. The public school system provides facilities but no funding.
Mrs. Mansoor has been lobbying to raise more funds but sees no quick solution to the problem.
The county offers ESL courses at six other locations, but Arlington Mill Center's location along Columbia Pike is popular because the area has a large non-English-speaking population, Mrs. Mansoor said.
She said the ESL program had proposed transportation service to accommodate students at one of the other centers. "We've looked into funding to pay for school buses," she said.
The ESL program has to share Arlington Mill Center with other community programs, which restricts class time, she said, adding that more facilities are needed in areas where the students live.
The program also is suffering the consequences of a shortage of teachers seen around the country, Mrs. Mansoor said. "Wages are fairly low … we need to train and attract more teachers" to adult education, she said.
"If you do not know English and you are doing everything you possibly can to learn it, this can be quite frustrating," she said.
Like Mr. Cossio, others who gathered at the center on Monday to enroll in ESL classes said they needed to learn the language as soon as possible to get better jobs or to keep the ones they already have.
Walking through the corridors was difficult as crowds of people eager for information filled every space.
The crowd was made up of people of every age "from 17 to 70," said Vanessa Phillips, a teacher and technology officer. Seventy-six percent of the county's ESL students are from South and Central America.
The county's 12-week beginner, middle and advanced courses cost $150 per student. Every year, 350 scholarships are available to students, who pay just the $25 application fee.
The lower cost of classes within the county school system was clearly one of the chief attractions to those hoping to enroll on Monday. Many had taken public transport to get to Arlington Mill Center after work.
Like Mr. Cossio, Mario Nunez, 36, a carpenter who emigrated from Bolivia, said he had learned about the classes through friends.
"I cannot communicate with my clients," he said, speaking in Spanish. "I would lose time and money if I had to wait to take classes."
He ran hopefully as a volunteer called for a group of 10 to follow him to a classroom, only to find out that he would be given alternatives, not admission.
The alternatives include waiting lists for the next round of enrollment, and the possibility of open seats at one of the other centers. That did little to appease Danelo Hernandez, 32, who works as a technician at a hospital and cannot make it to any of the other sites on time after work.
"I knew it would be crowded, but I am disappointed," said Mr. Hernandez, who queued up at 4 p.m. for the enrollments, which were scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.
It is easy to understand the desperation of those who fail to get into the program, Mrs. Mansoor said.
"If you are living in an English-speaking country, you need to know how to speak enough to ask for health care, or even public transportation," she said. "It is not a luxury to learn English it is a necessity."

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