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Older students seek out SJU for lifelong dream of a degree

For most of her 70 years, Bayside resident Maria Christina Campos has hoped to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Campos, who moved to Queens from Colombia in 1968, raised her three children in the borough, and with her sons now grown and successful she said she finally has the time to pursue her dream.

Before she is able to apply to a psychology program, however, she is taking classes at St. John’s University in Fresh Meadows to help her with her English.

“All my life I have wanted to finish four years of college,” Campos said. “I want to prove to myself I can do this. I want to feel proud.”

Campos is one of about 35 individuals enrolled in the adult literacy classes that St. John’s Committee on Latin American and Caribbean Studies is able to provide for free to community members, in part, thanks to a recent three-year grant from the city Department of Youth and Community Development. St. John’s will receive $70,000 each year of the grant to provide the classes, textbooks and other materials at no charge to course members.

“We’re providing a necessary service that is the best way to make sure you and your family have a more secure financial, personal and professional future by helping the adults in the family receive the necessary education they need to apply for jobs or to continue on to higher education,” said Alina Camacho-Gingerich, chairwoman of CLACS and a professor of language and literature at St. John’s.

The class, which runs Mondays through Thursdays and on Saturdays until June 30, covers a wide variety of topics, including English grammar and GED preparation. After the program concludes, a new semester will begin July 15. Individuals may still sign up for this semester’s classes, which run from 6:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

“The people in this class are so dedicated,” said Woodside resident Patricia Hoyos, one of the program’s instructors. “When I leave at 10 p.m., I see them waiting for the bus in the freezing rain and snow.”

Those attending the class hail from all corners of the world, such as South Korea, Colombia and Bangladesh, to name a few. They are young and old and many work during the day before making the trek to class. Many enrollees are from northeast Queens, though there are individuals from throughout the borough in the program.

Bayside resident Luce Marina, 58, raised her six children in Queens and said she hopes to improve her English so she can work in a kindergarten class or with elderly individuals.

“In the beginning, you might think everyone will laugh at you or you’re too old to try, but then you see people in the class have the same desire to learn as you,” said Marina, who moved from Colombia to Queens 34 years ago.

Monira Bezum, of Jamaica, takes care of her two daughters during the day before traveling to the class she hopes will give her the language skills she needs to speak with her children’s teachers and possibly land a job in banking.

“I’m really excited about this class,” said Bezum, who moved to Queens from Bangladesh a little more than three years ago. “It gives you a lot of opportunity.”

Long Island resident Ariel Oliveros, originally from Colombia, said he is pleased the class is helping him prepare for the GED. He currently works as a window cleaner and hopes to go to college after receiving his GED.

“I want to improve my English and find something better in my life,” Oliveros said.

For more information about the program, call 718-990-5829 or e-mail clacs@stjohns.edu.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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