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Last updated:

June 1, 2001

UW-RF Tutors Teach English to Dairy Farm

Dairy farmers in Wisconsin have responded to a critical labor shortage by hiring workers from Spanish-speaking countries. In fact, experts estimate that 5 percent to 11 percent of Wisconsinıs nearly 1.3 million cows are milked by non-English speaking people.

Though the workers are industrious and reliable, farmers are finding it difficult to train them because of the language differences. It is especially important for the workers to know some English so they can understand safety-related issues on the farm and have the skills necessary to communicate with doctors and to pay bills.

In response to the need, UW-River Falls is offering two-week courses on teaching English to speakers of other languages this summer, with an emphasis on tutoring at a dairy operation. Graduates of the courses will put their new skills to work tutoring Spanish-speaking employees on Wisconsin dairy farms, during the months of July and August.

Said Katrina Larsen, outreach program manager at UW-RF, "There will be one tutor per farm, working with anywhere from seven to 15 people, depending on the size of the farm. Each tutor will work for 25 hours, distributing the learning over a three- or four-week period. The tutors will have lesson plans and work sheets, and they will work in a classroom set up somewhere on the farm, such as an office, a break room or a garage. They will probably work in the barn as well, identifying things by their English name."

Dairy farmers from communities across the state are interested in participating in the project, according to Larsen. The farms range in size from 280 to 2,400 cows, and they are located in Green Bay, Edgar, Elk Mound, Algoma, Dorchester, Sun Prairie, Rice Lake, Grantsburg, Strum, Glenwood City, Luxembourg, Kewaunee and Stanley.

The cost to dairy farmers is $125 for one tutor to work with their non-English speaking employees for 25 hours, spread out over a three- or four-week period. Larsen said she hopes farmers will negotiate their own arrangement with the tutor after that, to continue the training.

Larsen said the tutoring project benefits everyone involved. Non-English speaking workers are helping to make it possible for Wisconsin milk producers to meet production. The workers who come here are earning much more than they could in their own countries. They send much of what they earn back to their families, and when they can, they bring their families here. They also provide the farmers with connections to more workers when they need them. The tutors learn a valuable skill that they can take with them and use in other situations, as well.

The classes will be held from June 18 to 29, and they can be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit or no credit hours. Tutors will teach the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening , as well as strategies for learning a second language and the variables that influence the learning of a language. The cost runs from $200 to $627, depending on the level. A high school diploma is the only prerequisite for enrollment. A stipend of $250 is provided to tutors who complete the field experience, to help defray their costs.

For more information on the Dairy Workers English as a Second Language Project, contact Larsen at the UW-RF outreach office, 715/425-3256.

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