Workshop promotes immigrant education

Workshop promotes immigrant education

October 8th, 2009 by Perla Trevizo in News

The need to further the education of immigrants in the United States brought more than 40 people from across the region to Chattanooga for a two-day workshop.

The goal of the workshop, held Wednesday and today, was to teach attendees how to operate a Plaza Comunitaria, an educational initiative of the Mexican government.

"We are starting to open a Plaza (in Nashville) because we found that 55 percent (of 100 people surveyed) didn't have their basic education," said María Guadalupe López, with Catholic Charities of Nashville, who was in town for the workshop.

Marisela Trejo and Nancy Trujillo, from the Migrant Program of the Georgia Department of Education in Lenox and Bainbridge, Ga., said they came to the workshop to learn more about the Plaza so they can promote it in their regions.

"We only have one Plaza in our region (Lenox)," Ms. Trejo said, but the need is much greater.

In the Plaza Comunitaria program, the Mexican government provides all the materials to offer primary, secondary and high school education in Spanish to immigrants in the United States.

"This program is very important, because it creates opportunities not only for Mexicans but for immigrants of any nationality who want to start or continue their studies, because many people who come as workers unfortunately didn't have an opportunity to study in their home country," said Jorge Carillo, program promoter of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad with the Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta.

The first Plaza Comunitaria started in California in the 1990s and since then the program has expanded nationwide and to Canada. Mr. Carillo hopes it will become available worldwide.

In the three states -Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama- covered by the Consulate office in Atlanta, the number of Plazas increased in one year from 11 to 25 signed agreements, Mr. Carillo said.

Chattanooga State Community College's Plaza Comunitaria, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on Thursday, has had between 800 to 900 students, according to director Mirtha Jones.

The program not only helps immigrants learn their own languages, it helps them learn English, she said.

"Many of the immigrants may be illiterate or have lower education, and it's very difficult to learn English when you are not literate in your own language," she said.

WHAT IS A PLAZA COMUNITARIA?

A Plaza Comunitaria is an initiative of the Mexican government to offer primary, secondary and high school education to adults in Mexico and immigrants in the United States and Canada.

BY THE NUMBERS

*280: Number of Plazas Comunitarias nationwide

*25: Plazas and signed agreements in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee

*2: Number of active Plazas in Tennessee

*15: Number of active Plazas in Georgia

Source: Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta