For Hispanic immigrants moving to America, learning English and being part of American culture is a common goal.

But what if they didn’t have much education from their home country to start with?

This is the problem facing most Hispanic adults who live in Daviess County. A new program being offered by the Purdue University Extension Service may help with this problem. The pilot program will give classes in Spanish via distance education in basic courses that will help fill the gap.

In a video conference Wednesday announcing the program, Purdue has teamed up with the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System to provide distance learning in four Indiana counties. In addition to Purdue and IHETS, the Mexican government provided materials for basic education.

For further education, the Institute Tecnologico de Monterrey, will offer their distance-learning program to students. The Mexican university will offer 84 courses for students as diverse as basic computing to business management. Presently, there are 129 learning centers in this country that work with Monterrey.

According to figures presented by the university, 37 percent of Hispanics living in the United States do not have a high school diploma, or “bachillerato,” in Spanish. Representatives from Monterrey also said the Hispanic population has grown 58 percent in the last 10 years.

In Indiana, a study conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Center for Urban Policy and La Plaza, a nonprofit organization in Indianapolis, said that nearly half of all Hispanic males and 42 percent of females come to Indiana without a high school diploma.

Jan Wahl, Purdue Extension education director, learned during a trip to Mexico last year that many people she met thought education was important but had to leave school to work for their families.

While Wednesday’s video conference was to announce the program, local students have already started. Ten students, picked from a local English as a Second Language class, began classes in basic computing last week. The group is a test group with more people to be added later.

Wahl said much of the help has come from the community, such as the Diversity Center. The students picked for the test class have come from ESL classes taught by Mary Sacarello, director of the center. Also helping and doing much of the teaching has been Maria Tedrow, who has been working with the students on a volunteer basis.

“I think this program is going to go pretty well,” Tedrow said. “I was expecting they would be shy about pressing buttons, but they are doing pretty good. I am really hoping that first, they’ll not be afraid of computers anymore. Second, I want them to be able to navigate where they want to go.”

Tedrow, who worked in adult education in Jasper, was recently hired by Purdue as the county’s Latino Learning Center Facilitator, although the hire is not official until paperwork is completed.

One problem for the pilot program is availability to computers. The other three counties, Marion, Noble and Clinton, all have computers and centers at their offices. The Daviess County extension office, located at the courthouse annex, does not have the space for a learning center. Presently, the classes are being held at the county’s computer learning center in the DCI Building at Third and Main streets, but there are not enough computers to fill the demand.

“We have to be making it more accessible to people,” Tedrow said. “We may have 18 people the next class, 20 the next.”

The 10 students starting their computer class will finish in about three months. After that, according to Tedrow, they will move on to classes in whatever the students are interested in studying. Although part of a pilot program, Tedrow said she has heard interest within the Hispanic community and has been directing adults to the program.

The project was funded by a $167,000 grant from the Indiana Rural Development Council. The Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis is donating books and videotapes to the four counties.

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