- Rotary InterCountry Teacher Exchange

Reproduced by permission Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Metro, Friday, July 21, 1995

Bridging language gap

Police officers, emergency workers learn Spanish skills in free classes

By Jennifer Mena

FORT WORTH - When police officer Shelby Sullivan hits the Polytechnic streets on her beat next month, she won't just wave and smile at the Spanish-speaking children anymore.

Thanks to three Rotary clubs that have set up four weeks of free Spanish classes for police officers and others, Sullivan hopes to learn to converse with them.

"We're going to be able to do more than wave now. . . .I'm going to say, 'Como se llama? Me llamo Shelby,'" said Sullivan, 33, practicing her new words, "What is your name? My name is Shelby."

One hundred officers, federal agents, dispatchers and paramedics volunteered to take the Spanish classes five days a week for two hours a day.

Three Mexican teachers, staying at the homes of Rotary Club members, are providing the classes at no cost to the police department.

Detective J. P. Jernigan, who has studied Spanish before, said he's glad the Mexicans are here. He said he wants to be able to understand people when they speak to him in Spanish about an offense.

"They expect us to help the public. It's difficult if you don't have the skills," Jernigan said.

Yesterday, one class was reviewing vocabulary. They repeated sentences in Spanish such as, "Where's the schedule?" and "Where's the secretary?" Some lessons were geared to the needs of emergency personnel.

"They may not be able to conduct an investigation in Spanish, but they can help people. You can learn the basics," said Spanish teacher Carlos Gasca, 36, who is a vice principal of a Leon, Mexico, preparatory school.

The police department has a severe shortage of bilingual officers, officer Dave Bowen said. Of 1,074 officers, 26 receive bilingual pay, and of 316 civilians, 16 receive the extra compensation. More speak Spanish but have not passed the bilingual test, Lt. Pat Kneblick said.

When they aren't teaching, the Mexicans are learning the American way. One attended a company picnic with his Rotary Club host. Another sat in on the trial of a man accused of a drive-by shooting.

As professor Pedro Antonio Mari Hadad of Cozumel bit into a chicken-fried steak at a Rotary Club lunch, he explained that they are still getting used to the food.

Although not complaining, the Mexicans said the devaluation of their currency cut their expense budgets in half.

Americans have gone to Mexico to teach English for four years through the Rotary clubs, but this is the first time Mexicans have come to the United States to teach Spanish, said Rotary spokesman Don Mebus. The western, Fort Worth, southwest and Fort Worth north Rotary Club chapters are sponsoring the teachers.

caption #1 From left, police officers R. Gilmore, S.J.Gilmore, S.J. Sullivan and D.E. Dalco discuss Spanish phrases during their class yesterday.

caption #2 Pedro Mari Hadad calls for answers in a classroom at the Police and Fire Training Center yesterday.

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