News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Church official says school a witness for faithfulness

By Melanie B. Smith 340-2468

Decatur's English and More School has had an important witness for 20 years through its faithfulness in offering English-as-a-second-language classes, said Gena Heatherly of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

On Wednesday she presented Debbie Pirkle, teacher for all of the years, and host site Central Park Baptist Church with commendations from Alabama Baptists. The school got its official start from Morgan Baptist Association in 1987. Betty Morgan and Willie Merle Lawrence were early organizers for local Baptists, and Lawrence led the first training workshop.

Both women taught students in homes in the mid-1980s. Morgan's first student told her she couldn't read food labels at grocery stores. Morgan County was home to 168 foreign-born residents in 1980, according to census figures. Now the numbers have multiplied greatly. Hispanics from Mexico and other Latin American countries make up the largest group of internationals, but the area also has residents from Japan, China and many other countries.

The English and More School is part of the association's literacy ministry. Other volunteers teach English as a second language in Hartselle and adult reading and writing one-on-one, said Virginia Alexander, church and community director for the association.

Heatherly said about 4,000 people statewide are in ESL, adult reading and writing, or tutoring groups sponsored by Southern Baptists.

"ESL is a huge need in this state," she said.

Every church has people moving nearby who don't speak English but want to learn, she said. Pirkle, who is also children's minister at Central Park Baptist Church, is currently the only teacher at the English and More School and welcomes volunteers.

Want to learn more?

Call Debbie Pirkle at 355-4628 or Juanita Johnson, literacy ministry coordinator for Morgan County Baptists, at 778-8054.

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