Students in Kara
Hagan’s English as a Second Language class at Imperial Beef use cards with
nouns, verbs and adjectives to create sentences.
A new partnership between the Mid-Plains Community College Imperial Campus and a feedlot in Southwest Nebraska is improving communication skills.
Kara Hagan is an English as a Second Language instructor for MPCC. She has started a new program that's making it easier than ever for Spanish-speaking employees at Imperial Beef to learn English.
"We're seeing crazy success," said Hagan. "So far, we have 29 students registered, and the class just began in April."
Hagan isn't new to ESL. In college, she worked in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Writing Center – tutoring ESL students. She also taught ESL classes at the Lincoln County Detention Center in North Platte before relocating to Imperial. She's excited to be able to put her experience into practice.
"There's such a need for ESL," said Hagan. "It's really important to me that everyone be able to effectively communicate. Anyone who is a non-native English speaker still has a basic need and desire to want to fit in and be part of a social circle of some sort, and the way that is accomplished is by communicating. Students are in my classes because they want to learn a new language. They don't want to be different."
ESL students at Imperial Beef learn how to spell words by playing Hangman.
She got the idea for the partnership with Imperial Beef after teaching an ESL night class at the Imperial campus for spouses of Imperial Beef employees.
"Their husbands couldn't commit to the time the class was offered because they were working," said Hagan. "So, I thought, 'What if I go to them, instead'?"
Located approximately 13 miles northeast of Imperial, Imperial Beef is a nationally-recognized and established cattle feed yard. About two-thirds of its employees are primarily Spanish speaking.
"When I took my idea to Imperial Beef owner, Brad Foote, he was enthusiastic from the start," said Hagan. "He also offered to help by providing dinner to participating employees on the nights classes are offered."
Foote said he immediately saw the partnership as a natural fit. Many of his employees weren't born in the U.S., and they had been looking for ways to improve their English skills. They were excited about the idea of taking classes without having to travel.
ESL students at Imperial Beef review the past tense of verbs using flash cards.
"Most of the Hispanic people in Imperial want to better themselves and be good neighbors and good people in the community," Foote said. "They want to be able to speak the English language so they can feel comfortable when they go to the grocery store, to a restaurant to order a meal or to a bank to open a checking account. If these classes help with that, then how could I not support them?"
Hagan is joined by another ESL instructor, Eric Gonzales, in teaching the classes from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because Gonzales is bilingual, and Hagan is not, he teaches the basic English skills, and she teaches the more advanced skills such as proper grammar and punctuation.
"By the time the students get to me, most are already fluent in English and just need to brush up their writing abilities," said Hagan. "The process – it's somewhat indescribable, but I'm smiling right now just thinking about it. The students work so hard. They might put in 12-hour days and then come to class as soon as their shifts are over. It's incredible."
Salvador C. drives a feed truck at Imperial Beef and attends Hagan's classes.
"I take the classes to increase my ESL level and to gain more opportunities in my job and life," Salvador said. "I understand good, but I'm excited to learn how to talk more and say things correctly – like using correct tenses when talking. My English really is better than when I started."
Watching the growth in her students has inspired Hagan to pick up a second language as well.
"I listen to a podcast every day to try to learn Spanish because of the excitement I see in my students," Hagan said. "For them to take what I'm saying and value it and put it to use – it's the greatest feeling in the world."