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Plum City library helps Spanish speakers learn English

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Ellsworth, 54011

Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

PLUM CITY -- It was the fall of 2005 and the application initially seemed like any other for a library card Jacquie Pooler had ever seen at the Plum City Public Library.

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There was a slight problem, however.

The person submitting the application, Martin, a third grader at the time, only spoke Spanish and Pooler, the library director, only spoke English.

"That moved up the time frame," Pooler said, who thought of taking a Spanish class beforehand, but was too busy getting the library integrated into the MORE system, an organization most libraries in Western Wisconsin belong to.

The two, through hand signals and gestures, were able to establish Martin wanted a library card. So Pooler told him to bring in his parents. He was back the next night.

"I was very surprised and thrilled he came back," she said.

Soon after, Pooler signed up for a Spanish class at UW-Stout in Menomonie.

"I went to school to be a librarian and wanted to learn a second language," she said. "I just didn't expect in a town of 600 that you would find people that would only speak Spanish."

Meanwhile, Martin's family, which at the time included his father and mother, who was pregnant, and a younger sibling, wanted to learn more about the English language.

Therefore, Pooler tried to find out, while she was in Menomonie, if anyone taught English as a second language and would they be willing to do it for the family.

She was told Tim Stanton, a teacher at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), would be interested. After no students were interested, Tim and his wife Kay said they'd do it. As a result, the first classes were held last spring twice a week at the library. (After trying out the classes at a nearby farm where most of the Spanish-speakers lived, the classes are now being held again at the library, every Tuesday and Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m.)

"I wanted to find a way to connect to the population," she said. "To prove they're just as important as the rest of our client base in Plum City."

Pooler said it's usually around seven people who attend every session and, from what she has heard, a good time has been had by all.

"You hear a lot of laughter up front," she added. "There are lots of discussion and interactive games."

Getting a hold of those interested in signing up for those classes proved to be difficult, as the only way to communicate with them was by putting up street signs written in Spanish and posting flyers at local businesses, for example.

As for the future schedule of classes, Pooler said it's set up only through the first week of February.

"We try to make sure they don't fall behind because it's such a weight on their shoulders," she explained. "It's an intense 90 minute night, but we try to make it fun."

And for those in Plum City whose first and only language is English, Pooler believes this idea has gone over well.

"A majority of people like the idea," she said. "It's a positive step for Spanish speakers to learn English."

As a result of their efforts, Pooler and the Stantons have been invited to be part of a panel discussion to provide services for non-English speakers at Eau Claire in May.

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