ESL classes at police station aim to build trust

(Photos by David Gordon)

Top: ESL teacher Jeana Cordeiro, with students Crescenciano “Martin” Martinez and Claudia Melendez; below: Cordeiro (Photos by David Gordon)

English-class-VRTTwo Spanish-speaking students met with English as a second language teacher  Jeana Cordeiro last week to improve their English language skills. The class, which has six students enrolled, meets in a second-floor conference room in Saugerties Police headquarters.

The class is part of the Ulster BOCES Adult Literacy Division, Cordeiro said. The police department provides the room.


The department offered the space “to bridge the gap between the minority community who speak Spanish and the police,” said Police Chief Joseph Sinagra.

Fear in the community that the police might target undocumented immigrants sometimes keeps Latino residents from offering information that could help police, he said.

The police do not have the authority to arrest people solely for not having the necessary papers to work legally in this country, Sinagra said. If a person’s undocumented status is discovered after an arrest for a crime or violation, the police must check for immigration status, however.

One reason that attendance at the classes fluctuates is that students’ working hours can conflict with class time, Cordeiro said. Some of the students’ jobs can involve extra overtime or changes in shifts, she said.

The class on Friday, April 24 consisted of speech practice, vocabulary-building and using language in practical situations. The class started with a game, “Hed Banz,” which requires players to identify the object shown in a picture on the front of a headband they are wearing. The other players can see the picture; the questioner can’t. The game is similar to 20 Questions. All questions and answers must be in English, with guidance from Cordeiro if the language is too difficult. Much of the emphasis is on correct pronunciation.

Next was a vocabulary-building drill in which the students, Crescenciano “Martin” Martinez and Claudia Melendez, had to come up with words beginning with specified letters. Again, pronunciation was important.

Finally, Cordeiro drew a series of maps on the blackboard, and the students were required to give directions from one place to another in English. The exercise offered an opportunity to correct small errors in English, such as “turn right” or go right rather than just “right” when giving directions.

Crescenciano, who works at Miss Lucy’s Kitchen, offered the teacher directions – in English – for finding the restaurant.

The teaching job in Saugerties is one of several for Cordeiro. She teaches ESL in Kingston, also through BOCES, and in the Dutchess County Jail through Dutchess County Community College.

While she is not a native Spanish speaker, Cordeiro has travelled extensively in Spain and Latin America and taught ESL in both places.

In addition to her work, she is working on a master’s degree in teaching at SUNY New Paltz. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Delaware.