By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News, July 2010
Lindy Delf of Northeast Portland, a retired teacher, hopes to work at a school in Mexico City.
Michael Rasmussen of Southeast Portland likes to travel but, he said, “I hate not knowing the language.”
To learn Spanish, each has enrolled at Tierra Educational Center, started a year ago by Norberto Medina, a software engineer from Mexico, and Rebecca Pillsbury, a teacher of English as a second language from Wisconsin.
The two, who met while working at another language school, want their center to become a cultural bridge, they said, and a supportive place for learning another language.
Most of their 10-week classes at the center, 2915 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., have four to six students with eight the maximum enrollment.
“There is a very close relationship between teachers and students,” Medina said. “The teacher can know the particular needs of each student.” For instance, he said, a teacher can outline course work to help a nurse who meets many Latinos in her work. “We want to help her, and we focus our efforts on what will be most beneficial for her,” he said.
The close student-teacher relationship in small classes, he said, sets Tierra apart from community colleges that enroll larger numbers of students and usually follow a set course outline. Tierra enrolls about 80 students at any one time and has three teachers in addition to Medina, said Pillsbury, who runs the business side of the center. The classes include three levels of beginning and three levels of intermediate Spanish. The advanced classes, taught entirely in Spanish, emphasize Latin American culture and history.
Prices for classes are $10 an hour for 10- and 20-week courses, but the hourly price drops when students sign up for 30 or 40 hours of instruction. Private classes are available, too; and twice-a-week sessions have been scheduled. Information is available at www.tierracenter.com.
Twice a month, Tierra hosts a “conversation club” for students and community members who want to use Spanish in an informal social setting, Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury recently launched an English-as-a-second-language program for businesses with large numbers of Latino employees. She developed class goals with the owner of a Vancouver, Wash., landscaping business and scheduled classes at the business. With Oregon’s Latino population expected to increase beyond 10 percent in coming years, she said, the program could grow as other businesses seek to improve workplace communication and client relationships.
Pillsbury, 28, who moved to Portland two years ago, studied communications and German in college. She traveled to Argentina a few years ago and studied Spanish in immersion classes.
“When I came back from Argentina, I wanted to study more Spanish,” she said.
Medina, 31, was born in Seattle where his parents were graduate students at the University of Washington. He grew up in Mexico City where he earned degrees in both electrical and computer engineering. He learned English in school. He moved to Portland two years ago, in part to study classical guitar with a teacher who recently moved to Colorado. He spends most of his time at Tierra but occasionally finds time to play music at local coffee houses, he said.
The owners selected the name Tierra, the Spanish word for earth, to indicate their language center is intended to draw together people from many places, Pillsbury said.
Their students are in all age ranges and occupational backgrounds. They come from all parts of the metropolitan area, including Clark County, Washington.
Lyle Brown of Vancouver, Wash., a software engineer, started studying Spanish about five months ago because he wants to learn another language. He has progressed to an intermediate class taught primarily in Spanish by Medina.
“It’s fun,” Brown said.
Lindy Delf, the retired teacher, praised Elyse Tishkoff, who teaches an intermediate level class primarily in Spanish, resorting to English only when students need a prompt.
“She’s just wonderful,” said Delf.