The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 1, 2000 Issue
Local News

Learning a second language leads to building community

Though she doesn't speak Spanish, Green Bay woman teaches English, and more

By Susan Gloss
Compass Correspondent

Every week night, while most people are leaving offices or starting dinner, Bette Fashingbauer's kitchen becomes a classroom.

For almost five years, Fashingbauer has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Hispanic members of St. Willebrord Parish. She began with only a few students, but now has an entire notebook full of the names and phone numbers of pupils, past and present, and their families.

"I began by taking a six week course with the Literacy Council - anyone can take it. After my first student, I called up Sr. Melanie Maczka (director of Spanish Ministry at St. Willebrord) and said, 'See to it that you find me some more students,' which wasn't hard, because there's such a need. It became such a thrill to see them study, progress with their English, pass a test, and get their citizenship," she says.

Fashingbauer doesn't speak Spanish, but it doesn't seem to matter. Students come to learn English, and appreciate her teaching style.

"She's patient," says pupil Morfilio Garcia, who has been studying with her for three months. "She's very friendly and doesn't get angry."

For Fashingbauer, benefits include much more than seeing her pupils succeed in the English language, however. Her students are also her friends. They exchange not only language, but also laughter, stories and recipes. It's not uncommon to see a baby playing on the floor while Fashingbauer reads to the mother, or for one of her pupils to pick her up on the way to a parish event.

Her students have been especially supportive, she says, since the death of her husband of 60 years, George Fashingbauer, in February. "They all came to the hospital to see 'Grandpa,' and to the funeral. They've really become like family. This year, one of my students and his family brought me a plant for Mother's Day."

She says that her late husband now serves as an inspiration for teaching, as he learned English only after moving from Germany as a boy.

Fashingbauer says that from the aspect of the companionship and personal rewards she's gained as an ESL tutor, "heart-wise, I think I've gotten more out of it than they have."

Her volunteer tutoring program has become an important part of the Hispanic ministry program at St. Willebrord, and her face is a familiar sight at dinners, cultural events, and Spanish Mass, held three times a weekend, says Sr. Maczka.

She's a tremendous inspiration to all of us, both who work in the parish and to the community. For someone who is pretty much homebound and doesn't speak Spanish, she has made connections with the Hispanic community that are just astounding."

As a part of that community, Fashingbauer feels that the recent growth and integration of diverse cultures into St. Willebrord Parish has changed it from being a good thing to being "perfect."

"It really is a community," she says. "We have so many volunteers - but there's always room for more."

She encourages anyone with a little bit of time to take the 6-week course at the Literacy Council and get involved with ESL.

"It's frustrating when I hear people say that anyone who moves to this country should be speaking English. How are they going to learn if they don't have teachers?"

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1825 Riverside Drive | P.O. Box 23825 | Green Bay, WI 54305-3825
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