May 24, 2010

Hispanic business leaders inspire fifth-graders; Prof says ESL already have skills to succeed

Fifth-graders from English-as-a-second-language classes at Roosevelt, Fratt, Red Apple and Jefferson Lighthouse elementary schools took part in the third annual Hispanic Professional Tour on Monday.

The students met with nine Hispanic business leaders during the tour, which is designed to motivate the 10 and 11-year-olds as they head into middle school next year, said Kay Bedoian, an ESL teacher at Roosevelt Elementary.

Rodney Ramos (right), a professor of interpretation and translation at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, spoke to the students about the importance of education in getting a good-paying job when they get older. He told the students, most who are native Spanish speakers, that they already possess language skills that will help them when they get older.

He recalled moving to the United States when he was in seventh grade not knowing a single word of English. Ramos said he learned fast to avoid being sent back a year in school. One teacher told him if he spoke a word of Spanish in class she'd smack him with a ruler. He passed an English competency test just 25 days after moving to the U.S.

Ramos continued to learn English and went on to become a translator and then a professor. He tried to impress upon the students that learning English now will help them land high-paying jobs as adults. English-Spanish translators make $50 per hour, and people with strong language skills can earn between $100 and $300 per hour, if they finish their education, he said.

"Some skills you already have can be the key to controlling the future," Ramos told the group of about 40 students.

Ramos spoke to the fifth-graders at the Kurt Sports Complex, which is the new home of the Hispanic Community and Resource Center. Marie Black, head of the new center and of the Hispanic Business Alliance, organized the first Hispanic Professional Tour in 2007. She work with Bedoian on this year's tour.

Students were broken into groups of about 10 and met with nine different Hispanic professionals over a two-hour period. The professionals included: Ramos, Linda Ayala, senior vice president of Johnson Bank; Gabby Brossman, Brossman Meats; Lydia Chairez, commercial deposit services, Johnson Bank; Domingo Cruz, attorney; Terrie Garcia, RN of Marquette University; Georgia Herrera, attorney; Aidiana Lira, Children Service Society; Rey Lozano, manager In-sink-erator; Juanita Perez, customer service, Johnson Bank; Dr. Jaime Quezada of Wheaton Franciscan; Alfredo Sandoval of UW-Parkside; and Blanca Webers, owner of Casablanca Restaurant.

Bedoian (left, with Ramos) said she was impressed with the powerful stories the speakers shared with the students. Lozano, of Insinkerator, shared he was first Hispanic supervisor Insinkerator in 70 years. The key to his success? He had a college degree while other applicants for the job did not.

"They shared really loving kinds of threads," Bedoian said.
Bedoian said she hopes to include more students in next year's professional tour and keep the annual event growing.

"I wish I had 100 students sitting in front of these speakers," she said.

Teachers leading student groups this year are Walter Robles and Rosa Tobias of Fratt Elementary; Stephanie Durphy and Bedoian of Roosevelt; Kristin Zimmerman of Red Apple; and Stacey Huizinga of Jefferson Lighthouse.


  1. This is a great program, it gives the students the chance to hear from and see people who at one time were just like them. This same program should be held for African American students, they need to see what an education could do for them.

  2. Some of you will judge this article based on the fact that the event highlights Hispanic leaders. In light of that, I just want to state that I truly admire Mr. Ramos. I have personally witnessed his work with youth -of a variety of backgrounds- in our community. He is a kind and patient man who considers it his responsibility to pass on the knowledge and wisdom that God has given him to the next generation.

    I am of the belief that when you meet a true leader, one who is gifted to lead others by example, then you know it. You can see it in the way that they interact with people and the sacrifices that they often make on behalf of others. Mr. Ramos is just such an individual.

  3. Although the program is a great morale-builder, it won't help a lot of kids until we change the socio-economic system. Under corporate capitalism--which benefits the top 5% at the expense of the rest--darned few poor kids get ahead.

  4. 11:07 - Quit making excuses for failure.

  5. No, I'm merely telling the truth. Capitalism exists to benefit the holders of serious capital, not the average person and, certainly, not the minority child from a low-income family. It is in the self-interest of mega-capitalists and their epigones to beat wages down and keep them there in order to maximize profits. (Anyone who doubts this should study the Waxclan's ethically-questionable labor practices.) What I said was not an excuse for failure. Rather, it was and remains a realistic explanation for a sad situation.