SF State Employees Benefit from Summer ESL Course
School employees enhance their English skills
August 23, 2005 3:17 PM
Every day 127 workers on campus walk by without being noticed. They are the custodians and the groundskeepers of SF State, dressed in their dark green jumpsuits and blue shirts.
They clean more than 23 buildings, 80 floors and 250 bathrooms. They clean the drains for three months every autumn and prune the trees in the winter. They wax every professor’s office floor twice a year.
Gil Salvador works as a groundskeeper at SF State. He says that one of the hardest jobs he must deal with is chalking the athletic field before games. At the end of the last school year, Salvador was also dealing with his son surpassing him speaking and writing in English.
He now studies with his son, and brings his elementary vocabulary book with him to the beginning-level ESL class at SF State that has been teaching him and roughly 20 other school employees all summer.
Maureen Fitzgerald, a lecturer in the English department, was inspired to form a class to teach English to interested SF State employees after a group of workers at a campus restaurant she frequents asked her to teach them English.
“It seems obscene to have people that want to learn, and who work at a university, and aren’t given the opportunity,” Fitzgerald said.
California State Employees Association Chief Steward Mary Grant soon took up the cause and proposed the class to the administration.
After nearly two years of negotiation, a class was formed for the workers, members of CSEA’s Unit 5. The class began running for an hour a day three days a week from July 11 to August 18.
Grant claims that there are workers' rights issues involved in increasing workers' English proficiency.
"Employees can't participate in the job evaluation process, take advantage of any professional advancement opportunities, or help maintain safety standards if he or she cannot read and write basic English," she said.
"I see it as the union's and as human resources' responsibility to give them the opportunity to advance at SFSU," Grant said.
Associate Vice President of Human Resources Denise Fox Needleman says that the university approached the class with a "two-fold objective."
"The purpose is to enhance communication and to facilitate upward mobility," Fox Needleman said.
As SF State employees, Unit 5 workers are eligible to utilize the fee waiver and career development programs, which allow them to earn degrees for $3 per class-if they can speak enough English to enroll.
“I want them to have the ability to do what they want,” said Fitzgerald, who also pointed out that many members of her class “are also learning how to be students.”
Students at the final class on August 17 were eager to find ways to continue. Fernando Cardenas, who works a night job before coming to work on campus at 5:00am, and cannot find an alternate ESL class, proposed writing letters to union reps and supervisors. The students have also considered starting a petition.
The future of the class will be worked out during a meeting between Fitzgerald and Fox Needleman. According to Fox Needleman, the administration wants to evaluate how many employees are interested in the class, how the class is benefitting those employees and what time will work best to accomodate their operational requirements.
Grant and Fitzgerald both remain optimistic about the class’ continuation.
"The union will work as hard as it possibly can to present the next level of ESL classes to the grounds and housing workers; and since the program has been this successful so far . . . we have every reason to believe it will continue and will work," Grant said.
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