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Learn English to ukulele at Midvale Elementary’s Family Learning Center

Mar 07, 2018 11:46AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Family Learning Center teacher Leslie Mourigan and fellow teacher Thomas Sandquist help provides adults with classes in English and other subjects. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Midvale Elementary’s Family Learning Center provides adults with classes in English, computers, financial literacy, healthy relationships and ukulele. Yes, ukulele.

Family Learning Center teacher Thomas Sandquist said that many adult learners come to the center to learn or improve English and from those classes, he began teaching students how to strum the ukulele.

“You can learn a lot, including English, through music,” he said. “The (Canyons School) District supports the instruction and bought 30 ukuleles that I use at the learning centers.”

Sandquist, and fellow teacher Leslie Mourigan, also teach them English through songs with actions.

School community facilitator Heidi Sanger said the Family Learning Center offers ukulele and other classes as a way to reach out to their community.

“We want to offer classes that will engage more families,” she said.

While class sizes may vary weekly and by subject, she estimates that there are about 10 adult learners who regularly attend the classes in English, citizenship, computers and ukulele.

Many of them also attend the Parents Talk class series that are hosted by community agencies such as South Valley Services and America First Credit Union. 

“South Valley Services offers classes to our adult learners in self-esteem, healthy relationships, effective communication, community resources and other topics to support them,” she said about the organization that provides safe shelter and supportive services for domestic violence victims.

American First Credit Union will hold classes this spring in financial education, home buying, planning financially for the future and teaching children about money.

The free community classes, taught informally in both English and Spanish, are held weekly at 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays in the Family Learning Center, 7830 Chapel St. (400 West). There is free childcare provided.

“They’re more conversations versus a formal class. We’re developing relationships with our parents and they’re learning from one another. Many of these parents want more for their kids than they’ve had so they’re here to better themselves and give a hand up to their children. At the same time, we welcome them, what they’re proud of and ways they’ve impacted our community. It’s a bonding and learning opportunity,” Sanger said.

Three other elementary schools — East Midvale, Copperview and Sandy — also have Family Learning Centers.

Mirna Olivas said five years ago, she attended classes at Sandy Elementary’s Family Learning Center.

“I wanted to learn more English,” she said. “I lived on the border of El Paso in Juarez, Mexico and English classes were expensive. I wanted to learn as I wanted to be involved in the schools and with parents of my kids’ classmates.”

She said the environment was welcoming and she instantly felt at ease.

“It was more comfortable with others wanting to learn and having resources right there. We’d have parties with food from all over the world and learn about other languages and their homes,” Olivas said. “We did learning through activities and some in books. When the time came to share our experiences, we’d try to say them in English and when it got hard, nobody laughed. We were all in it together.”

Since then, Olivas has gotten a job in Midvale Elementary’s office, helping students and parents speaking either English or Spanish.

While many of the adult learners are improving their English, they also are interested in improving their computer skills.

Teacher Kenia Bush has taught the basics from how to type and use a mouse to programs such as Excel and PowerPoint. She has helped many adult learners with setting up their email accounts and searching online.

“I tell them not to be afraid,” she said. “Many of them don’t have access to computers or are able to get to a library to learn to use one. Once they learn, they master the skills and become sharp on it. Some have shopped online since they don’t have transportation and others search for jobs where they can use a computer.”

Sandquist said that teaching adults came out of his love of wanting to help at the schools.

“I didn’t know where to go or what I could do to help. So many of them didn’t know how to get the help they needed so this makes sense,” he said. “It’s exciting to teach them and they’re wanting to learn more.” 

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