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Omaha Magazine

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

Jul 09, 2014 04:45PM ● By Kristen Hoffman
Learning a second language is a hobby that many—okay, some—people enjoy. For Susan Mayberger with Omaha Public Schools, learning Spanish as a second language has been integral to a fascinating life and career journey.

“After teaching for three years I had an opportunity to take a year off and learn Spanish as a second language,” Mayberger says. “I did this in Spain after having taken two years of high school Spanish. I thought I was oh so smart. I go there and I couldn’t even ask, ‘Where is the bathroom?’” That experience may have turned off some on the idea of learning another language. It only fueled Susan’s fire.  “In the situation of being college educated but feeling like I wasn’t very successful, I think that’s what started my empathy for people who are coming to the United States and learning English as their second language,” Mayberger says.

After graduating, the Omaha native moved to New York in 1980 and earned her Masters in ESL. After spending about 12 years in New York in both the private and public sectors, Mayberger and her husband moved back to Nebraska in 1996. In 1998, she secured her current position with OPS as the Coordinator of the ESL Migrant and Refugee Program. “Originally we were just working with ESL students, and then more of our students qualified for the migrant and refugee program,” she relates.

In the Omaha Public School system, 109 different languages are spoken. When Mayberger first returned to OPS in 1996, there were only 29 different languages being spoken.  Students are not divided into various classes based upon their primary language. “As we teach in English, we learn special strategies to teach. We use a lot of pictures. Acting out or role-playing and video clips are all methods we use to help our students understand what we’re teaching them as they learn English,” Mayberger tells.

In addition to her position with OPS, Mayberger is the representative for the Nebraska Migrant Education Program’s Bi-national Program.  The program exists as an agreement between Mexico and the state of Nebraska, working towards the education of students that cross the border and come into OPS schools.

“We have an opportunity in the summer to bring up teachers from Mexico,” Mayberger says. “We invite teachers to come work in our state with our students for the summer. As a school district we are so challenged in finding enough teachers to teach in our dual language program. It’s my hope that this partnership will help us in filling the need that we have for excellent bi-lingual teachers.” The children, however, are not the only students that Mayberger is invested in teaching. “I support a lot of work with parents,” she says. “In order for our students to be successful and cultured well into the United States, you have to help to bring the parents along.”

A program offered through OPS at the Yates Community Center off of 32nd and Davenport offers learning programs for adults. “Every day, Monday through Friday, we have about 180 to 200 parents taking classes and learning English,” Mayberger says. “They also learn about being parents in the United States. We teach them about our educational system. Sometimes it can help parents get jobs or improve their jobs, which gives them the ability to help their families.”

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