By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Jovita Zeigler, an Indigenous woman from the Mexican state of Hidalgo, is helping one of her classmates set up an e-mail account.
“Point to the ‘Mail’ icon and double click on it,” Zeigler tells her classmate, who’s never used the Internet before.
Zeigler and the other seven women in the classroom, sitting in front of laptops, are part of an adult educational program sponsored by the Mexican government for Mexican nationals and other Spanish-speaking persons across the United States.
“Plaza Progreso A-Z” at Monroe Clark Middle School in City Heights, recently was awarded a grant for the amount of $14,000 from the Institute of Mexicans Abroad Binational Educational Initiative to continue and to expand the services it offers to students like Zeigler.
This plaza comunitaria, a program established by the Mexican government in 2005, opened last Spring, when some parents asked for it after the Mexican Consulate in San Diego gave a presentation on campus about the program, said Laura Angel-Zavala, director of the Parent Center at Monroe Clark, which manages the plaza.
“We’ve found out what our community really wants,” she said.
Students receive classes in literacy, elementary and secondary education, GED preparation, and computer skills.
There are 20 to 25 parents in “Plaza Progreso A-Z” at Monroe Clark. The vast majority of them are housewives from low-income families in the City Heights neighborhood. They speak little or no English. Some of them work cleaning houses once or twice a week.
“One of the goals of the program is for each parent to advance to the next level,” Angel-Zavala said. “If they don’t know how to read, they would learn. Then they would continue with their elementary education, and so on. The idea is for them to continue on, learning more.”
The plaza was being funded through parent education funds at Monroe Clark, and now that it got the $14,000 grant, it will be able to buy more equipment and educational material, Angel-Zavala said.
“We felt that if the parents were increasing their own level of education in turn that would improve their own children’s education,” said Rosario Martinez-Iannacone, assistant director of community school programs at Price Charities, the non-profit organization that manages Monroe Clark.
About 74 percent of students at Monroe Clark Middle School is Latino.
The plaza officially meets twice a week, for an hour and a half. Recently some students have agreed to meet an extra day for GED tutorials.
The GED preparation students have set up a schedule to complete one module every three weeks. At that pace, they plan to take the test in June.
“They’re always motivating each other to continue attending the classes,” said Parent Coordinator and Instructor Martha Gonzalez.
Alberto Lozano, spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, said that there are 20 plazas comunitarias in San Diego County. He said that during 2005 and 2006, $105,000 were approved in funds for these plazas.
He said that thousands of Mexicans and other Latinos have benefited from these plazas in San Diego County alone.
Each of these students’ stories tells of a past lacking education, and also of a better future thanks to educational accomplishments.
Zeigler, who is in her forties, was never able to attend school in Mexico because she had to work since an early age to help her family survive. She has four children. She came to the U.S. almost 20 years ago.
Her first language is Otomí, an Indigenous language spoken in central Mexico. She has been able to learn English, and now her goal is to complete her elementary education and develop her computer skills. She’s currently enrolled in classes equivalent to fourth grade.
“The plaza program has boosted my self-esteem. I’m not ashamed to speak in public anymore. I’m not afraid anymore.”
She said that she’s glad the Mexican government is lending a helping hand to Mexican immigrants in the U.S.
“They’re finally giving us the chance we never had in Mexico,” she said.
Her education isn’t limited to the Plaza. Zeigler said that what she has learned here motivated her to enroll in a computer applications course at San Diego City College.
“I feel very proud of myself.”
Angel-Zavala said that the plaza comunitaria program has had such success, that there are plans to open satellites at other schools in City Heights.
“It’s really making an impact on these parents,” she said.
For more information on “Plaza Comunitaria A-Z” in City Heights, call (619) 563-6801. The school is located at 4388 Thorn St.