Clinton women key into learning

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Sunday, January 20, 2008
— They were practically strangers until a foreign language brought them together.

Five years later, they’re such good friends they finish each other’s sentences.

In 2002, Bonnie Schoville and Linda Nortier founded a program to teach English to Clinton’s Spanish-speaking population. Both women are members of Emmanuel Reformed Church, which became a home for the classes.

Schoville had been working in the Clinton School District when Spanish-speaking families started trickling into the village.

“The district was struggling at the time,” Schoville said. “I was not sure the community was prepared for the influx of Spanish-speaking families. It was floundering. It just seemed like there was something we could do.”

So Schoville cornered Nortier after church. Nortier was and is a consultant for local school districts.

She told Schoville she was “nuts.”

Nuts, maybe, but willing to go out on a limb, said Emmanuel Reformed’s Pastor Clyde Rensink.

“They are two people who are willing to think and act out of the box,” Rensink said. They are looking ahead to what the needs are down the road and trying to put them into play.”

And Schoville and Nortier weren’t just flailing about being “do-gooders.”

“They are people concerned about the real needs of people,” Rensink said. “That’s been the whole focus of this Hispanic ministry … the needs that are really there.”

But the need has taken a step back for the time. After five years, there are no family ESL classes at Emmanuel Reformed this winter.

Part of the reason is exhaustion on the part of Schoville and Nortier.

They weren’t good at delegating responsibility, the women said, and they wore themselves out with the amount of organizing needed to run classes for adults and children, all of them at different places in their English-speaking abilities.

Five years of a program also taps the energy of a community’s volunteers, Nortier said. And the federal government’s focus on immigration last spring had an effect on enrollment, Schoville said.

So the project is on hold for now.

“We talked about it with pastor,” Nortier said. “We prayed about it. We agonized over this. We’re going to stop for now, take a break and see what happens. If you let something go, when there’s really a need, it’ll come back. Maybe it needs to come back a different way. Maybe the Linda/Bonnie design isn’t the right way.”

The project opened the eyes of the women and changed their lives, they said.

For starters, it got them in touch with the Clinton community and showed them the challenges the library and school district face.

The community is visibly more open-minded toward its Spanish-speaking neighbors than it was five years ago. When the program started, there was “great” resistance that has softened over time, Nortier said.

Not only has the school district made leaps and bounds in educating Spanish-speaking children, the community has shown it is welcoming, Schoville said.

“For a small town, where you tend to think people are more prejudiced, I don’t think that’s true,” Schoville said. “I think it’s possibly more open-minded than you get in a big town.”

Age: 56
Community: Clinton Township
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
Occupation: A professor at George Williams College in Williams Bay and an education consultant for local districts. She is president of the SMILES Board.
In her “spare” time: She is working on a doctorate in school administration at George Williams.

What she thought when Schoville asked her to help found an ESL program: “I thought she was nuts.”

Age: 57
Community: Clinton Township
Hometown: Clinton. She’s been a member of Emmanuel Reformed Church since she was baptized there.
Occupation: An administrative assistant in the Elkhorn Area School District and the secretary of Emmanuel Reformed Church
Likes to read: Historical fiction
For fun: She is a grandma. Her second grandchild will be born this month.
Why she asked Linda to help found an ESL program: “She’s a little crazy like me.”

Last updated: 1:21 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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