‘Awesome opportunity’: Major South Omaha stakeholders start English language classes on worksite

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Immigrants have started new lives and jobs in Omaha. Feeling confident in an unfamiliar culture, however, can still seem like a daunting task.

Two major stakeholders with deep roots to South Omaha partnered to help working men and women learn a new language so they can live their dreams, even during a pandemic.

“Can you go shopping?” Veronica Padilla said to her student, María Chacón. “Yes, I can,” she replied.

Picture the perk of spending one-on-one time with your teacher without leaving your actual office. Here, Chacón continues the latest chapter of her journey learning English as her second language, while also working at Greater Omaha Packing Co.

“I’m learning,” she said in Spanish, “and I especially like it because I can take classes right here at work. I don’t need to rush out to try and get to another school.”

When Padilla, a teacher and English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, learned about Greater Omaha’s new on-site partnership with the Latino Center of the Midlands, she said she immediately signed-up to join in the mission for the first semester.

“Meeting my students, we’re eager to learn, and that was just a combo, I said, ‘I just had to take it,'” Padilla said.

Mohsine “Mo” Gdid, vice president of human resources at Greater Omaha, said he knows firsthand, as an immigrant, what can happen when a company invests in its employees’ education.

“Be a partner to make sure that our communities are the best place to live,” Gdid said. “To do that, they really have to play their role, and we want to be part of that, we want to help them achieve that.”

In the near future, Greater Omaha plans to host two more types of classes at the plant. Latino Center ESL instructors, meanwhile, will keep honing their skills with students at the institute’s South Omaha office.

Throughout her time working in the center’s adult education program, instructor Abigail Ceramuga said students feel added pressure to learn English and help provide for their families.

“Being able to be better connected to the community in Omaha, better job opportunities, feeling like they can advance their own careers,” she said. “This semester and last semester, we’ve been offering hybrid learning, which is a really awesome opportunity.”

Classes have helped Heliana Barragán stay connected and up to date with her kids’ lives at school.

“I can go to any place I need to go and I can have a conversation, or ask if I need to ask something,” she said.

“Keep the student engaged in the class,” Padilla said. “Keep them coming, keep them learning and being productive here.”