The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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May 25, 2013

'Now I can talk to anyone'

CLINTON — On his first day of school in America, Gaspar Raymundo Lopez was on the verge of tears.

The Clinton High School junior moved nearly 3,000 miles from Guatemala to Clinton in 2010.

"It was so frustrating. The first day was awful." he said. "I wanted to go back to my country."

It wasn't just the distance or the differences between Iowa and Guatemala that left Lopez feeling lost. The Central American teen couldn't communicate because he didn't know any English.

Two years later, Lopez is on the verge of his final year of high school with dreams of going to college or serving in the Army. The difference is, now, Lopez can share his dreams in Spanish or English.

"I couldn't make friends when I didn't know English at all," Lopez said. "But then after three months I started talking to American people. In six months, I started talking regular and now I can talk to anyone."

Students who come to Clinton High School from across the world with an English language deficiency have had tremendous success through the English Language Learners program and with the help of English as a Second Language teacher Olga Cyphers.

Lesli Cuatlacuatl, a Clinton High School junior from Mexico, also has big dreams. After immigrating in 2011, she hopes to go to college and one day be a firefighter.

"I want to know the language. 'Never give up,'" she said, reciting the class motto.

According the National Center for Education Statistics, between 3 and 5.9 percent of students enrolled in Iowa's public schools in the 2010-2011 school year were English language learners.

These students often have a harder time in school than their peers. The Iowa Department of Education shows that in the 2011 to 2012 school year, English language learners had a four-year graduation rate of 73.91 percent while the same rate for all students was 89.26 percent.

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