“My students have so much to offer this country. They are all so full of knowledge.”
“Do any of your students go on to college?” I asked.
Looking up from her lesson plans, with tears of pride in her eyes, Luisa answered enthusiastically, “Yes! Many of my former students have gone on to college. In fact, it is my dream that every student leave here ready for college.”
|Luisa Orellana (Whitworth)
Luisa Orellana is an ESL (English as a Second Language) professor for the Community Colleges of Spokane Institute for Extended Learning. She is also an ESL teacher for District 81 elementary schools in Spokane, Washington. As the night class ESL instructor, Luisa works with students from all around the globe, with a wide range of English speaking levels, and a multitude of background stories. Many of her students come from war-torn countries, and have lived through unspeakable tragedies.
Luisa has a unique perspective on her students’ plight. In her native country, Luisa and her family were in constant fear for their lives and freedom. She and her family came to this country from El Salvador as refugees when she was only 14 years old. As a way of protesting U.S. support in the war in El Salvador, churches banded together to give homes to those misplaced and driven from their homes by war. Luisa and her family were taken in by the Saints of the Border in the early 1980’s. They lived in Tucson, Arizona for a time. (See link below for the story of the Orellana family journey.)
|Luisa as a young girl (Tucson Weekly)
Eventually, they moved to Spokane, Washington. There they resided with other refugee families in the basement of St. Anne’s Church near Gonzaga University for seven years. Luisa and her siblings attended Gonzaga Preparatory School. It was there that she began to learn to speak English. She used a mini tape recorder to record everyday conversations: on the bus, in the grocery store, in the park, on the street. She used these tapes to help her speak more fluently.
Though her childhood was wrought with danger and uncertainty, Luisa has a very positive outlook on life. “That kind of experience always stays with you – you can choose to be miserable, or you can see that it is such a blessing to be left alive and choose to make a difference. We all have something to teach.”
“My goal for my students is to get an education and make a difference in the world. I tell them, ‘Give your heart to whoever is around you in the best way you can.’” And Luisa walks her talk. She talks with her students about going to college. She helps them fill out job applications. She knows firsthand how important it is to be able to communicate in order to succeed in a new country, and how hard her students have to work to do this.
She has many heartwarming stories about her father, a deacon in their church, and the loving, humorous way he taught her and her siblings life lessons. “I think it is wonderful when parents can help children learn in fun and exciting ways,” Luisa says. She is currently writing a children’s book to tell a particularly touching tale about when she and her younger brother were young and hungry. This story, one she calls “The Watermelon Seed,” is sure to speak to the hearts of many. “He taught me that you can make children proud of the way they respond to mistakes, instead of ashamed that they made them,” she says of her father.
Luisa Orellana exemplifies caring. Luisa Orellana exemplifies citizenship. She is an inspiration. She inspires her students to try harder, to reach higher, to dream bigger. She inspires other teachers (myself included) to try harder, give more of themselves, and teach by example.
- Link to news article about the Orellana family journey across the border
- Information about El Salvador
- Link to ESL webpage