When Juan Farias first came to work at Cambria, he often kept to himself, but today he’s a total chatterbox.
Born in Mexico, English was the second language of Farias, who now lives in Le Center. While he got along with Cambria’s 300 foreign-born workers, his lack of fluency created barriers between himself and English-speaking coworkers. That was until recently when Farias nabbed a promotion and became a member of the third graduating class of Cambria’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
“I have better communication with my managers, supervisors and co-workers,” said Farias. “It changed my life.”
Farias was one of eight ESL learners to graduate from the program on March 5, and one of six to be promoted. Before he worked on the rock batching team, but today he enjoys a higher salary as a forklift driver in the raw materials department. The program has also opened up new opportunities for Farias. He, along with the other graduates, can now read and write in English at or above an eighth-grade level and is prepared to pursue a GED if necessary.
However, the benefits of the program for Farias weren’t just about career advancement. In and outside of work, he now sees himself speaking with more confidence and making new friends.
“I feel more comfortable talking,” said Farias. “I lose my nervousness. When I talk with more of my friends there and my supervisors, I am no longer nervous.”
Farias is just the latest to graduate from a program that is now serving 123 workers in the company. The free to access program began in fall 2016 with just a few students in the very first classes, but now it’s a juggernaut serving English learners of all stripes, from those who could hold a conversation but had difficulty with reading and spelling like Farias, to those who have no English skills to speak of.
The recent graduating class even had a student increase his reading by eight grade levels since starting in 2016 as one of the first students in the program. It’s one of the many successes that teachers and students have seen.
“I had one very low level student. Now as he comes down the hallway, he says, ‘Good afternoon,’ which is quite a difficult phrase, and when he came into our classroom, he couldn’t spell his name,” said Denise Rude, one of the four ESL teachers at Cambria. “The progress is amazing to see and building those relationships in the classroom is awesome.”
One of the biggest challenges Rude helps her students overcome is a lack of confidence. Many students show up to her class unfamiliar with an academic setting and uncertain in their ability to grow. To put students in what she calls a “growth-oriented mindest,” Rude seeks to make the classroom a comfortable learning environment, emphasizing interactivity, group work and constant repetition to nail down the language.
“When I start a new class, the first thing I want to do is get the students as comfortable as possible,” said Rude. “Building a rapport, because my philosophy is ‘The more comfortable the students are, the more willing they are to step out of their comfort zone to make a mistake.’”
Farias reported that Rude’s classroom gave him a path to success. In addition to his own punctual attendance, a willingness to participate in class and taking time out of class each day to study and speak English, Farias found that the class gave him the tools he needed to succeed.
“When there is something you can’t understand, they explain it to you until you’ve got it,” said Farias. “You got to practice not just here, but outside.”
While the program was started to give Cambria’s foreign language speakers the skills to communicate with their managers and pursue promotions, program director and teacher Kamille Kolar said that she is seeing benefits she hadn’t conceived of.
“Last year, we all got this app we could download to our phones for enrolling benefits, PTO and all of those kinds of things and I think, had we not been there, it would have been very difficult to communicate with the students about ‘Here’s how you download it, here’s how you make this password, here’s what it means to choose a 401k or not,’” said Kolar. “I think that that’s been a benefit — that our students have been able to get information that’s digestible.”
Kolar’s mission is to grow the students involved in the program even more and incorporate even more advanced subjects like digital literacy and work-specific subject matter. She has high standards because she wants to see her students succeed once they leave the classroom.
“I think rigor is very important,” said Kolar. “Of course, we want to meet the students where we’re at, but we want to have really high expectations for what they are able to do and support them on the way. I want to feel confident when I have a student that’s graduated.”
Kolar isn’t the only one seeing that confidence. When Farias stepped on the graduation stage in front of his family, co-workers, classmates and program alumni, he seized the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and represent his class by delivering a speech in English. It’s the first of many new opportunities, not just for himself, but his wife who is also enrolled in the ESL program and their three children with a fourth on the way.
“I really want anyone whoever has the opportunity to come to the English class to do it,” said Farias. “It will change your life inside work and outside. With English, you’re going to make friends. Sometimes when you don’t speak English you don’t want to talk to other people because they’re not going to understand it, but if you come to English class, you’re going to make more friends and it’s going to change your life and give you more opportunities.”
With the first COVID-19 cases related to community spread now out in the state, and numbers expected to rise, public health officials are trying to get the word out on the correct way to get yourself tested.
“We’re hearing from our clinical providers in the community that they are seeing increasing numbers of residents showing up asking for testing,” said Olmsted County Public Health Services Director Graham Briggs. “One thing we need to be working on is not putting a strain on those emergency departments.”
A March 9 news release from the Northfield Hospital and Clinics advised that patients may need to seek testing if they are exhibiting the primary COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough and shortness of breath — in addition to meeting other potential risk factors such as recent travel or close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.
The release also noted that fever and a rash, or fever and vomiting or diarrhea, would also be reasons to call in and see if testing is recommended.
Leslie Lovett, Minnesota Department of Health emerging infections unit supervisor, said individuals returning from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — countries with a Level 3 Travel Advisory — should closely monitor their health and are asked to stay home for a two-week period upon re-entry based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If they’re sick enough to normally seek out a health care provider, then they would be advised to notify their provider in advance that they had recent travel and work out appropriate care and testing,” added Lovett. “If they’re not sick enough to go seek out care, then we just recommend that people stay home when they’re sick.”
Public health officials and providers across southern Minnesota echoed Lovett’s advisory that anyone with a potential case of COVID-19 should call their clinic first, instead of going in person. This way, clients will be able to talk through their situation and make a plan for limiting exposure to others if they are ill.
“Don’t just go to the clinic,” reiterated Cindy Shaughnessy, Le Sueur County Public Health director. “Health care providers can make that assessment and use their judgment on whether or not they think one of their patients needs to be tested.”
According to the Northfield Hospital press release, “MDH helps providers make the decision whether to test a patient for COVID-19, based on specific criteria. MDH encourages providers to first test patients with symptoms for other respiratory illness like influenza.”
How COVID-19 spreads
According to the CDC, individuals with COVID-19 may begin displaying symptoms between two days and two weeks after exposure. Lovett said there’s not enough information at this time to determine whether a person is contagious even when they are not symptomatic, but she noted that with any respiratory illness the likelihood of transmission is highest when symptoms are present.
“That’s when they’re spreading the most viruses because that’s when they’re having the most sneezing, coughing and fluids,” she explained.
On its website, the CDC noted that there have been some reports of the new coronavirus spreading before people show symptoms, but that it’s not thought to be the primary means of transmission.
Currently, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, between those who are within about 6 feet of each other and when an infected person produces respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing — these can then land in the mouths or noses of bystanders and be inhaled into the lungs.
The beginning of community spread means that more people will become infected with the virus in one area, without being able to easily identify how or where they might have been exposed to the disease.
As more testing is being done across the state, Le Sueur County’s Shaughnessy added that she’s been told to expect additional cases.
When to get tested
Andrea Ahneman, communications planner for the Minnesota Department of Health, said March 11 that over the prior week and a half, the number of cases being tested per day had increased as capacity ramps up and testing becomes more common. Lovett added that a number of commercial labs will also likely be coming online soon to test swabs for COVID-19, but that she’s unsure of the exact timeframe.
While the oral and nasal swabs necessary for the test are fairly common and easy for clinics to order through their regular supply chain, there has still been a limitation over the past few weeks to the number of tests that can be performed, according to Timothy Sielaff, Chief Medical Officer at Allina Health.
“There’s not a limitation to testing for those who meet the criteria,” he explained, “but if we started having people who were well coming in who were worried, that might overwhelm the system.”
He also noted that this limitation will likely go away in the near future, as the country adapts to dealing with the novel virus. While he noted that the situation is evolving every day, at this point, he said there would be no reason to try and schedule a test while not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
“One of the public health benefits of that is then you’re saving the access for people who are ill and do need testing,” said Sielaff.
Briggs mentioned the same sentiment at a recent press conference, adding that emergency care providers are also continuing to process accidents and other sudden illnesses. According to Briggs, the infected individual in Olmsted County was sent home to self-isolate due to the mild nature of their symptoms and was told to notify providers if anything changes.Preventative measures
In order to avoid contracting the virus and necessitating testing, Lovett reiterated the importance of following basic hygiene practices. These include washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more on a regular basis, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren’t available, avoiding any face-touching, cleaning frequently-used surfaces daily, covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or tissue, and more.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” reiterated Sielaff. “If you’re unwell, but not short of breath and not experiencing the more severe systems, self-isolation is a good option.”
According to Betsy Spethmann, Northfield Hospital and Clinics communications director, self-isolation should last 14 days to account for the maximum amount of time that it may potentially take COVID-19 symptoms to develop. She also noted that people living with someone in isolation should take added precautions, including using a separate bedroom and bathroom if available, making sure that shared spaces have air flow either by an air conditioner or open window and other steps recommended by the CDC.
The patient should wear a face mask around other people and refrain from handling any animals in the home. To date, the CDC notes that there have been no reports of companion animals contracting or spreading the disease, although it’s believed it initially emerged from an animal source in China earlier this winter.
For additional guidelines on prevention, symptoms and treatment, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/. The MDH has also set up a COVID-19 hotline, which will be available at 651-201-3920 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
If you believe you should be tested for COVID-19, call your health care provider to talk through your situation and make arrangements before going to a health care facility in person.
COVID-19 and its spread has caused fear and uncertainty across the globe. To ensure our community has the latest information on this public health threat, APG Media of Southern Minnesota is providing stories and information on this issue in front of its paywall.