BY ADAM MANGUM
Room B219 is just like any other classroom at Provo High.
Students are seated, some paying attention to the teacher, others turning and whispering to one another. But what sets this room apart from the rest is that most of the classroom chatter is done in Spanish.
Sherrie Sellers is in her fifth year of teaching English as a second language classes at Provo High. Growing up, she lived in Pakistan and visited India, and she said she identifies with the difficulties these children face being confronted with a new culture, country and language.
“It’s a privilege to teach these kids,” Sellers said. “Sometimes I feel like I learn more about them than I teach them.”
Though that might sound clich?, Sellers said being exposed to the different cultures gives her an expanded world-view.
Currently, Sellers has children from Latin America, Korea, Japan, China and Africa in her classes.
Diana Rincon, 17, came to Provo from Colombia with her family a year ago. She said her parents decided to immigrate in order to provide their children with better opportunities for education.
She said the ESL program has helped her feel like part of the American culture in just a year’s time.
“I don’t feel apart from the American students,” Rincon said in English. “Sometimes we as ESL students don’t speak because we’re afraid, but most people are really understanding.”
Rincon said her brother Jhair, 10, picked up the language even faster, and was speaking almost entirely in English after only three months.
Other students said they feel that there is a definite separation between them and the other students, even if it’s unintentional.
“I feel like part of the school, but sometimes people look down on me because I’m in ESL,” said Ivan Gonzales, 18, a senior who came here from Mexico two years ago.
While Rincon and Gonzales enjoy the advantage of speaking Spanish with most of their ESL classmates, Xi Wang, 16, doesn’t share a common language with the others.
Wang came from China seven months ago to join her father, Jian Wang, who teachers mechanical engineering at BYU.
Xi (pronounced like the Spanish word si) Wang said it’s sometimes difficult when all of her classmates are chatting away in Spanish.
“Sometimes they’re mean when they speak to me in Spanish,” Xi Wang said. But Xi Wang said that most her friends are Hispanic and she’s treated well.
But the adjustment is not as easy for other students, Hispanic or not.
Seyla Martinez, 17, said most of her friends are Hispanic, and she said that’s because of ease of communication.
Martinez has been in the ESL program for two years since she came here from Guatemala, but still wanted to do the interview in Spanish.
“I have almost all Latin friends, and I speak in only Spanish in my house. It’s difficult for me to improve my English,” Martinez said.
Dianna Torres, 18, said she also had a rough transition coming to the Unites States from Ecuador. Before attending Provo High, Torres was an ESL student at Timpanogos High in Orem and said the smaller program at Timpanogos made her feel isolated from the rest of the students.
“I am shy and it’s hard for me to talk to people,” she said. “But now that I know (English) better, I can go and talk to any of my classmates … and it’s not so hard.”
Sellers said for students like Torres, hard work and concerted effort are the only ways their adjustment will be a smooth one.
“The bottom line is motivation,” Sellers said. “If a student wants to learn the language, motivation is the deciding factor.”
For some students, the motivation comes from leaving Third World countries and finding opportunities that aren’t as readily available where they were born.
“Life in Ecuador is so hard,” Dianna Torres said. “Since I was little, the (LDS) missionaries came to my house and spoke about Utah and going to college and choosing a career. I just wanted the same thing.”
Torres said she wants to go to BYU after she graduates this year and eventually become a pediatrician, a dream which would have been almost impossible in her native country.
For Seller’s ESL classroom, the entire purpose is to give non-English speaking students fulfill dreams similar to that of Torres.
“The United States is the land of opportunity, and most of the kids and their families are just trying to improve their lives,” Sellers said.
And for those students, the opportunities start in room B219.