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ESOL director helps integrate immigrant students into the community

POSTED: February 23, 2009 12:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Laura Herrington is the English for Speakers of Other Languages director for Gainesville schools. The language center is located next to Fair Street Elementary in the Fair Street Annex.

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If you’ve ever wondered how public schools successfully integrate non-English speaking immigrants into school systems, just ask Laura Herrington.

She’s the director for Gainesville school system’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program. The program develops the English language skills of 1,500 of the system’s 6,000 students.

The Miami native said when she left her job in South Florida teaching high school English and ESOL classes, she had no idea another ESOL job would turn up after she moved to Gainesville in 1994.

"I didn’t know much about he poultry industry and the draw of immigrants to Gainesville," Herrington said. "I was very surprised and pleased I could continue teaching English as a second language."

The 22-year educator said teaching ESOL is challenging but very rewarding because the students she helps learn English take that knowledge home with them. They serve as translators for their parents, who may speak only Vietnamese or Spanish, at the doctor’s office, grocery store or bank.

As Gainesville’s ESOL director, Herrington said she doesn’t discourage students from speaking their native language at home. In fact, she encourages them to maintain their verbal language skills at home, which makes them more marketable as graduates.

Herrington said it’s inspiring to see how public education integrates immigrant students and families into the Gainesville community.

"Once the student becomes a part of the school system, they become a part of this community, and they get involved in sports," she said. "... In our school system, they learn that education is important. In some countries, they don’t place as much importance on getting a high school education."

Outside of the office, Herrington said she enjoys spending time at sporting events with her husband Tony Herrington, a Gainesville native she married seven years ago. Tony Herrington is the principal of Lumpkin County Elementary School, and his daughter is in her first year of teaching kindergarten at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy.

She also likes visiting the mountains with her 14-year-old dog, Jed, in tow.

"I guess because I grew up in South Florida, the mountains are a special place to me," she said.



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