At its May 22 meeting, the Sussex County Republican Women’s Club heard from Jackie Wager and Javier Gilberto Torrijos, guest speakers discussing English language learners in Delaware schools.
Prior to her career as a teacher, Wager worked for Rep. Floyd Spencer, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee during the Clinton administration, and then as a lobbyist for a law firm in Washington, D.C. She started teaching after moving to Central America and has not stopped since. Her professional path has taken her from Central America to New York and finally to Sussex County.
Wager said English language learners make up 10 percent of the student population in Delaware. According to Wager, English language learners are a diverse group of students representing many languages, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, social, economic and educational backgrounds. She said 75 percent are native-born Americans, while 25 percent are immigrants. Wager said there are more than 10,000 English language learning students enrolled statewide, and 50 percent come from low-income households.
Although federal law prohibits denial of education based on race, sex or citizenship, Delaware is one of four states that does not fund the Title 3 ELL program at this time.
For these students, learning English will provide them the tools to become teachers to their first-generation parents who do not speak English themselves. Wager continues to advocate for statewide programs to support English language learners and their teachers.
Torrijos is the son of a Colombian sugar cane worker. His dad, having had no formal education, came to America in 1965 seeking a better life for his family. As with most immigrants, Torrijos said, his father was hardworking, family-loving and religious. His parents learned English through their children.
Torrijos learned firsthand the importance of education and learning English to break the cycle of poverty. In 2012, he became chairman of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, having been an active member since its inception in 2011. He was named co-chair to the ELL Advisory Council in 2018. Torrijos received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Drexel University in 1987. With over 30 years of experience in roadway and bridge construction management, he is assistant director of construction for DelDOT.