Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread and pumpkin pie are all on the menu for Fran Giglio and her 22 students at Ozarks Technical Community College this week.
On Tuesday, Giglio and the students enrolled in her advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) course will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal in their Graff Hall classroom. Giglio has been cooking up this meal for her international students for about 20 of the 30 years she’s been teaching ESL at the college.
For many of Giglio’s students, like Shan He of China and Luis Hernandez of Venezuela, this will be their first time eating Thanksgiving turkey. In contrast, a few students, like Mya Khin of Myanmar, who has been enrolled in Giglio’s course since 2017, will be contributing their own dishes.
A part of the Adult Education & Literacy program, OTC offers ESL courses in Springfield, Nixa and Hollister for free to non-English speakers who are at least 18 years old and no longer enrolled in school. In addition to Giglio’s advanced course, the college offers three other ESL courses. Giglio and her students meet Monday through Thursday for three hours each day.
Moving to the United States to be closer to his family, Hernandez has lived in Springfield for about two years. He enrolled in Giglio’s ESL course about six months ago.
“After one year here (Springfield) I feel like I have to learn it (English) if I want to be … successful, to be a part of the country,” Hernandez said about joining the class. “When I came here, I didn’t talk nothing. I cannot even say, ‘Hello,’ and now I can speak (well).”
“Now he won’t shut up,” Giglio said, jokingly, with a laugh.
“So much of English is confidence, just having the confidence to use your voice and feel a part of what’s going on,” Giglio added. “That’s what we try to do in the classroom, is say what you want to say and if people laugh, they’re laughing with you. Don’t be embarrassed because you don’t know everything perfectly. This room is a safe space.”
Although Thanksgiving is right around the corner, Giglio’s class intertwines food and learning regularly. Giglio said the class has a party once a month to celebrate birthdays and try different American cuisine.
“Feed the brain and feed the stomach,” Giglio said.
As an ESL instructor, Giglio’s main task is to help her students feel more comfortable speaking English, but her students say she does much more.
“You’re not only an English teacher, you’re history, geography, sometimes mathematics,” Shan He said to Giglio. Shan He has lived in the United States for about four years and Missouri for the past year. She moved to the states to be with her husband. Today, the couple lives in Galena, so Shan He drives about 45 minutes each morning to campus for class.
Giglio said she tries to work cultural lessons into class each day to help her students better understand the country they are living in, whether this be learning the former presidents on American currency or the major highways throughout the state of Missouri.
“I love this class because Teacher has told us about American culture and history and how to live like a normal American,” Shan He said, adding that she is often teaching her husband new things from class, despite his upbringing in the area.
Giglio also helps her students outside of the classroom. After Khin achieved citizenship, Giglio took her to vote for the first time.
“I’ve voted six times now,” Khin said with excitement, a beaming smile on her face.
Sitting in her classroom after class last week, Giglio said she has too much fun teaching the class to leave, even though she could.
“I’m old and I could be retired, but I love it,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to be with these wonderful people?”
Greta Cross is the trending topics reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on X and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. Story idea? Email her at email@example.com.