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News from the week of October 20, 2004

Non-native English kids get extra language help

By Val Scherbart Quist

"Get out your ‘Enjoy’ books," teacher Kristie Mayo tells a group of eager English-as-a-Second Language students.

The kids cheerfully oblige and head to a classroom corner designated as "the desert." Why? They’re reading "The Three Little Javelinas," a retelling of "The Three Little Pigs" set in the American Southwest.

Before they start reading, the students act out vocabulary words from the book with their teacher. "Suspicious," Mayo calls out, and the students whip out imaginary magnifying glasses. "Magic," she says, and they wave imaginary wands.

The word "sneaky" prompts the students to form a line and "sneak" around the room.

From the looks in their eyes, it’s obvious that these kids are having fun. As they finish their list of vocabulary words and gather back in the "desert," it’s also obvious that they’re learning.

The third graders are among the 78 students receiving ESL instruction at Tracy Elementary School.

Mayo is one of two full-time ESL teachers now on staff at the grade school, where ESL services have been expanded this year. Sue Johnson, who has also worked in the district as a speech therapist, is the other full-time ESL teacher at the elementary. Sheila Helleson teaches ESL at the high school.

"I think it’s going well," said Johnson of the changes that have taken place. "All the students who need help are getting direct help," she said.

The goal, she said, is to help each student to reach his or her classroom grade level. While the students are already mainstreamed into the classroom, they are pulled out for extra help. The ultimate goal is independence.

Mai Thor, a fourth year ESL paraprofessional who started out in the high school, said she wanted to be an ESL paraprofessional because of her background as an ESL student herself.

"I always wanted to help kids," she said.

Theresa Mota is in her third year as an ESL paraprofessional at Tracy Elementary. She works mostly with Spanish-speaking students, but also works some with Hmong students.

Mota, who began learning Spanish about 17 years ago, has been fluent for about 10 years. She’s still learning the language, through online classes. Mota said she thinks the expanded ESL services are making a difference. She said she is seeing students progress more quickly in their reading and writing ability.

J.C. Moua is new to the ESL paraprofessional job at Tracy Elementary, but is not new to Tracy or district staff. Moua, a 1994 graduate of Tracy Area High School, returned to Tracy this summer after 10 years. He returned to Tracy to be closer to his parents.

Moua said he’s grateful that the staff and school board are open to hiring minority assistants and are making an effort to improve the ESL program. He said he’s seen the benefits of ESL at both the high school and college level. "It’s very effective," he said.

Moua said that in a world where English is the surviving language, learning that language becomes vital for needs such as getting an education and getting a job. ESL, he said, is a step in the right direction.

TV forum lets candidates air views

What kind of community would you like Tracy to become in ten years? How would you try to make that vision a reality?

Tracy City Council candidates were asked to get their crystal balls out early in Monday night's television forum. But after an initial question about their view of the future, candidates also got a chance to express views about nuts and bolts issues ranging from garbage hauling contracts and nuisance ordinances, to cemetery maintenance and health care.

Bob Ladehoff, high school social studies teacher, moderated the 100-minute session which was sponsored by the Tracy Women of Today. The program was broadcast live over Tracy's public-access cable television channels. The forum is scheduled to be aired again Tuesday, Oct. 26, beginning at 6:30 p.m., on Prairie Wave's public access Channel 80. Efforts were also being made to rebroadcast the program to Charter Communications customers.

All seven city council candidates participated in the Monday forum: Sandi Rettmer, Bill Chukuske, Tony Peterson, Charles Snyder, Marv VanAcker, and incumbents Greg Torkelson, and Robert Caron. The three candidates with the highest vote totals will be elected to four-year positions on the city council.

Each candidate answered each question. A rotation was established so the same person didn't always answer first. Citizens were able to call in questions.

For some kids, school work has home-spun feel

By Val Scherbart Quist

It is often said that education begins at home. For several area families, that’s where it stays.
Homeschooling is on the rise around the country and in the state of Minnesota. In 1987, there were 2,322 Minnesota in home schools, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. In 2002, that number had risen to 15,810.

Among those are the Sam and Melissa Sahlstrom, Scott and Shelley Schwartz, Chad and Cindy Dallenbach, and Terry and Lisa Dallenbach families. The four families have each taken different approaches to homeschooling.

Three of the four families: the Sahlstroms, Schwartzes, and Chad and Cindy Dallenbachs, belong to the Marshall Area Home Educators Association (MACHEA), a support group for homeschooling families.
This year, because MACHEA has gotten so large, some subgroups have developed. One of the subgroups meets in Tracy, and has joint physical education classes.

Through MACHEA, children have the opportunity to participate in upper level science courses, physical education, and other events.

Like all Minnesota homeschoolers, these families are required to test their children annually. Parents who do not hold baccalaureate degrees or hold a teaching credential must submit a report card quarterly to the district they reside in.

The Sahlstroms are a second-generation homeschooling family. Mom Melissa was among the first generation of children to be homeschooled.

There are seven Sahlstrom children: Ben, 13, Annika, 11, Charisma, 9, Becca, 7, Reuben, 5, Amelia, 3, and Katrina, 1. They began homeschooling when Ben was about 4.m"I always knew that I wanted to homeschool," Melissa Sahlstrom said.

One of the most important reasons, she said, was to be able to teach the children about the Bible, and relate it to all aspects of their education. She said there are different approaches to homeschooling. "Some people try to bring the typical classroom home. That’s really hard to do," she said.

The other extreme, she said, is "unschooling," a method that basically allows children to learn on their own.

The Sahlstroms are somewhere in-between. They focus their learning around unit studies, which work well in a large family, Sahlstrom said.

The Scott and Shelley Schwartz family also includes seven children: Skylar, 13, Spencer, 11, Sterling, 9, Sierra, 6, Sianna, 5, Sawyer, 3, and Sarena, 18 months. This is their fourth year of homeschooling. For the Schwartzes, a barn accident on their farm led to the decision to homeschool. "We began putting our lives back into perspective and were starting to feel overwhelmed with work and school," Shelley Schwartz said.

The family prayed about it, and decided to give homeschooling a try.

Schwartz said they had considered homeschooling three years prior to that, but as a teacher herself, Schwartz found that her ideas of how education was supposed to be didn’t quite gel with the homeschooling philosophy. Now, she has no regrets. "We’ve been very happy with our decision," she said.

The Scott and Shelley Schwartz family also includes seven children: Skylar, 13, Spencer, 11, Sterling, 9, Sierra, 6, Sianna, 5, Sawyer, 3, and Sarena, 18 months. This is their fourth year of homeschooling. For the Schwartzes, a barn accident on their farm led to the decision to homeschool.

"We began putting our lives back into perspective and were starting to feel overwhelmed with work and school," Shelley Schwartz said. The family prayed about it, and decided to give homeschooling a try.

Schwartz said they had considered homeschooling three years prior to that, but as a teacher herself, Schwartz found that her ideas of how education was supposed to be didn’t quite gel with the homeschooling philosophy. Now, she has no regrets. "We’ve been very happy with our decision," she said.

Chad and Cindy Dallenbach made the decision to homeschool four years ago. Oldest daughter Chelsie, now 11, and son Chase, 9, attended kindergarten in a Christian school. Chelsie then attended school in Milroy.

Dallenbach now homeschools Chelsie, Chase, and youngest daughter Carlie, 4.
At first Cindy was unsure about homeschooling her children. But her husband and Chelsie convinced her to give it a try. She spoke with several families that homeschool, and one family that used to homeschool, but does not anymore. Among those she consulted was her sister-in-law, Lisa.
Most of the families gave her the same advice, she said. "They said, ‘There will be a time when you wonder why you did anything else." Dallenbach still had concerns after the first year, but now she’s happy they made the choice to homeschool.

Terry and Lisa Dallenbach are in their fifth year of homeschooling. They are the parents of Megan, 9, Tarynn, 7, Nate, 4, and Mason, almost 2.

"I thought about homeschooling the day Megan was born," Lisa Dallenbach said. Dad Terry liked the idea, too. Some family members weren’t convinced, but are more content with the idea now, Dallenbach said.

Megan was very shy when she was younger, Dallenbach said, an issue that helped seal the decision to homeschool. Megan really came out of her shell when she found out she would be homeschooled, Dallenbach said.

Lisa attended a Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE) conference, where she discovered that there were many curriculums available. The family uses the A-Beka and Christ-Centered curriculums. Dallenbach said A-Beka seems to be one of the strongest curriculums available to homeschoolers.

Fixer-upper? Some Tracy houses aren't worth fixing

The search goes on for a vacant house that Tracy Area High School students can renovate. But the quest isn't as simple as one might think.

"There are a lot of old, vacant houses out there, but not that many that are worth fixing," Robert Gervais told the Tracy Economic Development Authority Friday. He said that he and Chris Howard, TAHS industrial arts teacher, have looked at many properties in Tracy, but still not found a house that will work as a fix-up project. Poor basement foundations are a common problem in many of the structures he and Howard have inspected, Gervais said. Other houses that could work are priced too high, he said.

The idea is to renovate an old house in Tracy that might otherwise be town down. One scenario would have Western Community Action provide the money to acquire the house and obtain building materials. Students in a building trades class would provide the labor as a class project. The remodeled house would be sold to recoup costs.

"We are anxious to get started," Howard said Monday. "I hope that we can get into a project where we can have good weather to complete outside work before the snow flies."

Gervais said that if there isn't time to get a house for the current school year, efforts will continue to obtain property for next year.

Mellenthin upbeat about election chances

From all appearances, Pat Mellenthin faces an uphill challenge in her Minnesota House election bid.

Her District 21A opponent, Marty Seifert, is a four-term incumbent who captured more than two-thirds of the votes in the last two elections. His 2000 victory was over well-known Doug Sweetland, former president of Southwest Minnesota State University. But Mellenthin is confident about her chances. "I will win this race," she says.

Her optimism, she says, is based upon "mostly a gut feeling."

By this weekend, she said that her campaign had knocked on 95% of the doors in the district, with Mellenthin personally making about half the visits. "I've had a lot of people tell me, 'I'm voting for you this time.'" Her grassroots campaign committee, she says, is "the strongest I have ever seen."

o o o

The rural Marshall woman is the executive director of Arc SW, a non-profit group that provides support for people with disabilities in a 16-county region of Southwest Minnesota. A lifelong area resident, she and her husband, Jon, own the DeLux Motel, a business that has been in her family for almost 50 years. She and her husband also own and operate an 800-acre farm near Marshall. Their farm roots run deep. Some of land has been in the Mellenthin family for more than 100 years. The couple has three adult children and two grandchildren who all live in the Marshall area.

A 1974 graduate of Marshall High School, the candidate has a business degree from Southwest Minnesota State University. Her only previous experience in elective public office is on the Lynd school board. She has run for the state legislature once before, in 1996, when she also ran against Seifert.

Why made her decide on a second bid?

"I didn't like a lot of what I saw happening in state government. I disagreed with many of the priorities being set. I really think that we can do better.

Initially, Mellenthin gave strong consideration to running as an independent because she was "sick and tired of the partisanship" she saw during the 2004 legislative session. She accepted the DFL party's endorsement, she said, because she shares many of the DFL's principles and philosophies. But if elected, she says she will represent the interests of her district over party interests.

"I don't think I have to make my party happy. The only people I would have to please is the people in my district."

Responding to accident call, rescuers find second vehicle

"There's another car over here!"

The words cut through the darkness like a beacon.

"We need an ambulance over here!"

The appeal came from a flashlight-wielding fireman, standing atop a wind-blown ridge. It was about 7:20 p.m. on Monday night in the middle of nowhere.

A dramatic scene had already unfolded 200 feet east from where the fireman stood. Tracy firemen and ambulance volunteers had come upon a blazing car just off the township road. Two figures, apparently thrown from the car, were prone on the ground. But help was on its way.

Lights flicked on from the vehicles, illuminating the accident scene. EMTS and fire personnel spilled from their vehicles.

Radios crackled. Flashlights probed the dark perimeter. At least one EMT, hustling to the scene, tumbled over running into the ditch..

First one victim, then another is found. Quick injury assessments are made. EMTs hover over their subjects likes bees around a hive.

Meanwhile, a fire hose is charged and air-pack equipped firemen attack the car fire. The flames die in second. But there is a human form in the car. Someone apparently didn't get out.

Yes, the mock tragedy was only a drill Monday night. But that's not what most Tracy EMTs and firemen thought when an emergency call came in at 7:10 p.m. Monday night, about a single vehicle accident, two miles south of Tracy and a half-mile west. The EMTs had been gathered at the ambulance hall for a seminar on heart defibrillation. The firemen were gathered at the fire hall for routine training.

About 20 firemen and 20 ambulance personnel responded to the call.

"It was one of the best drills I've ever seen," said Kathy Ellgen, a regional EMS instructor who helped stage the drill. "I've been to some drills in other towns and it is just chaos. But this one went very well. The firemen and EMTs were very professional in how they went about their business. They knew what they were supposed to do."

The exercise simulated a two-vehicle accident. The people in one vehicle have been drinking. Their car strikes a vehicle carrying a family.

Only a handful of firemen and ambulance personnel knew about the drill in advance. Planning was carried out by Schroeder and Dale Johnson Jr. for the fire department, and Ellgen and Joe DeSchepper for the ambulance service. Firemen and ambulance personnel reviewed the drill after returning to Tracy at about 8:30 p.m.

Ellgen said that the working relationship that exists between the Tracy fire department and ambulance services is exceptional, noting that the ambulance service automatically responds to every fire call. She said that it is commendable that plans are being made for firemen to receive First Responder training.