Investing in the community, ahead of the curve

BY JOE SPRINGER ’80, curator, Mennonite Historical Library

In 1978, to complete her junior field work requirement in college, Brenda Hostetler Meyer ’79 (left) tutored Hispanic students, including Carmen Alvarado (right) at Chandler Elementary School in Goshen, where Brenda herself had attended years earlier. Brenda later served as director of Goshen Community School’s English as a New Language (ENL) program, beginning in 1989 in a one-third-time position with two half-time teachers assisting. When she left in 1996, she was serving full-time with 15 other teachers working in the program. Currently, one-third of students in Goshen Community Schools are English Language Learners and the district has the largest program in the state for a school district of its size.

UPON HER COLLEGE graduation and with support from her local congregation Assembly Mennonite Church, Rebecca Yoder Neufeld ’74 created a new program to assist a growing number of Goshen Community Schools’ K-12 students who were living in households where English was not the primary language.

Collaborations among Rebecca, Chandler Elementary School Principal B.J. Miller ’57 and others — first volunteer, then grant-funded — positioned Goshen Community  Schools to be ahead of the curve as it adapted to what would soon become a dramatic enrollment increase of such students. In 1979, the college’s Education Department received national recognition for preparing its students to teach in bilingual/ bicultural programs.

Whether volunteer or paid, in school classrooms or church basements, many GC students, faculty and alumni continue to invest skills and time to strengthen English language capacities among newcomers to Elkhart County and elsewhere.