Tucson, Arizona

By Laurie Laine
Volunteer tutors help newcomers master lessons
Balvaneda Espinoza is a success story. Because of volunteers provided by Child-Parent Centers, Espinoza, 43, learned to speak English against the odds, she said.
"I studied English for three years before I felt confident enough to speak," said Espinoza a mother of three, with a teaching degree, who moved here from Mexico in 1997.
Classes met twice a week for an hour and a half, but Espinoza never stopped practicing. Today she is going to school at Pima Community College part time and working full time for Project Head Start, a program introduced by the federal government in 1964 to assist low-income families with preschool-age children.
Espinoza started class with eight other parents, but by the end of the first semester, she was the only student left.
"My tutor was coming just for me," Espinoza said. "Then she offered to continue lessons in my home. Now we are friends."
Of Pima County's 18-or-older population, 3.7 percent or 31,219 people, either cannot speak English at all or can't speak it very well, according to the Arizona Department of Education's Web site.
Frustrated at parent-teacher conferences, Espinoza was motivated by her children, only son Jorge, 3, was enrolled in Head Start, and wanted to be a part of their education by learning the meaning of every word, she said.
"I always tried to read in English," Espinoza said. "That helped me more. I would read the dictionary and my daughter would say, 'Mommy, you're never going to finish that book.' "
Mary Bolen, Head Start center manager and Espinoza's boss, agreed Espinoza was interested in learning. Espinoza started as a parent-volunteer and later was hired as co-teacher for the 3-year-old class, Bolen said.
Most of the lower-income families eligible for the Head Start program don't speak English, Bolen said. Espinoza wanted to learn to speak English to benefit her children.
While children are in Head Start, parents are required to volunteer in the classroom and to attend English as a Second Language classes or General Educational Development classes, Bolen said.
Dee Durazo, adult literacy specialist for the centers