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Adult English Language Learners Showcase 'Stories From The Heart'

Lijun Chen
(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
Lijun Chen moved to the U.S. from China in 2008 and used her story to share the tradition of Chinese New Year with her classmates.

The Queen Creek Unified School District celebrated the accomplishments of some its oldest learners last night.

Students of the adult education program’s digital storytelling class presented to the public.

“I came to the United States in the year 2008 and one of the celebrations that I miss the most is the Chinese New Year.”

That’s how Lijun Chen starts her story.

It’s an ode to her favorite holiday that represents hundreds of hours of hard work. Sitting in the audience with her husband and son she had mixed emotions.

“A little bit nervous and excited,” Chen said.  

She said the class has made her a more confident speaker and a better listener.

“I realize my classmates really want to know my culture, so I think it’s an opportunity to share my culture,” she said.

And in turn, Chen learns about the cultures of the more than two dozen countries represented in the Adult Education program.

Almost 30 percent of Arizonans speak a language other than English at home, according to an analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies.

“We want them to learn the skills to be successful not only in their personal life, but in the workforce,” said Miguel Garcia, director of instruction for the Adult Education program.

Classes offered in the district range from English to basic math and civics.

RELATED: Queen Creek Education Program Has Taught Migrant Workers English For 20 Years

In this particular class, students have to write, produce a video, narrate their story and even navigate copyright law to select photos to accompany their story.

Alicia Curiel told the history of her mother’s struggle with a congenital disability. Her own dedication to learning English as an adult echoes the perseverance she admired in her mom.

“It’s difficult because I’m a mom, I am a wife, I am a grandma,” Curiel said. “I continue to try to learn for my sons, for me, for my family and now for my grandsons.”

Curiel’s next goal is to pass the GED test, but before that she plans to share her story and her hard work with her Mom, Rebecca, as a Mother’s Day gift. 

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Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.