There’s a different rhythm to Monica Gonzalez’s walk and a different tone to her voice, which spoke no English when she enrolled in the Morgan County school system six years ago.
She’s still somewhat shy, her friends and classmates said. But she walks with her head high, and — if the moment calls for it — Gonzalez is ready to talk to anyone.
The Brewer High School freshman, who is bilingual and wants to become a doctor, is one of the success stories of the Morgan County school system’s English as a Second Language program.
“She’s the poster child for why this program is so important,” said Amelia Canon, ESL teacher at Brewer and Lacey’s Spring. “When Monica came to me, she barely understood about four words of English, but she was thirsty to learn.”
Gonzalez’s life took another twist last month when she was one of 16 Morgan County students to speak in front of more than 200 adults at the annual State of the Schools address.
With no prepared speech and without hesitation, Gonzalez calmly told the audience about how the ESL program changed her life.
Since then, she has been inundated with requests to tell how she went from almost quitting school because of the language barrier to becoming a leader in her school and mostly Spanish-speaking community in eastern Morgan County.
She’s willing to tell her story to anyone who will listen, but in a soft tone, she said: “I don’t understand the big deal.”
Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said he has heard many positive comments about Gonzalez and her public-speaking ability.
“People are amazed that in a short period she went from talking no English to helping other students learn English,” Hopkins said.
Gonzalez was born in the state of Veracruz in central Mexico. Her parents got work visas and came to America when she was 18 months old. The family spoke no English and lived primarily in Spanish-speaking communities.
Gonzalez said her first three years at Lacey’s Spring School were terrible because “I couldn’t understand the teachers, and they thought I wasn’t paying attention.”
She thought about quitting, but then Canon came six years ago as the school’s ESL teacher. Gonzalez said that is when her life started to change because she was finally in a setting “that gave me what I needed to become a good student.”
Two years ago, Gonzalez and her best friend, Betty Alejandro, started teaching English in the neighborhood where they live on U.S. 231 in Lacey’s Spring.
Fifteen non-English-speaking students came to the makeshift classroom Gonzalez and Alejandro called Escuelita, which means little school. Two stayed the entire summer. Last summer, 21 enrolled and 15 came to every class.
Canon said she’s seeing a difference in first-year ESL students at Lacey’s Spring since Gonzalez’s started her voluntary summer program.
“I know she wants to be a doctor, but I think she is a natural-born teacher,” Canon said. “The fact that she can take a group of young people and keep them all summer says a lot about her.”
Alejandro, also 14 and a freshman who wants to be a teacher, agrees.
“Monica should teach, but she will be successful at anything,” she said.
Gonzalez and Alejandro are the changing face of America and the Morgan County school system.
The school system had one Hispanic student 20 years ago, Canon said. The ESL program alone has about 250 Hispanic students this year.
“There’s a lot more in the school system,” she said.
Gonzalez said her family talks in Spanish at home “because it’s part of our heritage.”
Canon said it’s important for her to hold on to that because being bilingual is “like money in the bank.”
On a recent visit to her doctor in Huntsville, Gonzalez stayed after her appointment to help the doctor translate to a non-English-speaking patient.
She’s also helping her parents with English.
“They are pretty good students,” she joked.
In some form, the ESL concept Gonzalez benefited from has been part of the American landscape from the country’s beginning.
Because it needed a way to communicate with other governments during trade expansion, the British Empire carried English tutors on trade ships.
The concept expanded in 1906 when the Naturalization Act required all immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship to speak English. The modern ESL programs were established because of the growing school Hispanic population in America.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|