Seeking Common Ground: Immigrants Find Footing in a Rural English Classroom

Aug 13, 2019

In Amy Fabbri’s English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class in Moorefield, every time a new student joins her morning or afternoon session, she gives them the honor of pining their name next to their home country on a large map of the globe. The map that hangs on her classroom wall has pins marking Haiti. Mexico. El Salvador. Ethiopia. Myanmar. Ninety percent or more of her students work for Pilgrim’s Pride, a chicken processing plant located in the middle of the small West Virginia town. 

The conditions that brought her students to Moorefield are varied, but if you ask them what they think of their new, rural home, the answer is almost unanimous. “I like it.” For many of Fabbri’s students, the quiet, safe town is a comfort. It’s relatively easy for them to walk to the grocery store or to Wal Mart to get what they need. And for many, having a job that is close to their home– somewhere they can walk to and earn a decent wage without needing specific education or language requirements– can feel like a blessing. 

Photos by Justin Hayhurst.

The surnames of the class members have been withheld for their privacy.

Belkis, Dominican Republic  

“I like Moorefield,” Belkis, an employee of Pilgrims’ Pride said, “because it’s close to my work.”

It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, Belkis said, of Fabbri’s English class. “I learn everyday … We practice with different accents.”

During class, Belkis is often the first to respond to Fabbri’s questions about conjugating verbs or identifying months and dates.

Vana, Haiti

Vana is one of the oldest members of Fabbri’s English class.

After working night shift at Pilgrim’s Pride, where she stands for long hours on a line, Vana, who suffers from arthritis, walks to Fabbri’s 9 a.m. class.

She likes to sit next to her friend, Marie, who is also from Haiti. 

Marie, Haiti

Marie has lived in Moorefield for five years. She came to West Virginia to work at Pilgrim’s Pride after originally moving to Florida from her home in Haiti.

Marie works in the chicken breast de-boning department on night shift.

When she arrives at Amy’s class, Marie says, she’s tired but happy.  

Ahmed, Eritrea

Ahmed works the night-shift at Pilgrim’s.

He used to worked in housekeeping at a hotel in Missouri and later he worked in Chicago.

But in 2012, he moved to Moorefield for work in the chicken plant.

“It’s good,” Ahmed said of his life in Moorefield. 

Florentina, Mexico

When Moorefield schools are experiencing a snow day, Florentina brings her young daughter to class with her.

Fluent in Spanish and English, Florentina’s daughter often serves as a tiny translator for her mom, helping her to learn the new language.

Unlike many of her classmates, Florentina does not work for Pilgrim’s Pride, but stays home with her children.

Patricia, El Salvador

Patricia has lived in Moorefield for not quite a year.

When she isn’t attending Fabbri’s classes, she works in her family’s restaurant, Pupuseria Emerita, housed in a single wide trailer on the other end of town.

There, she serves up traditional cuisine from Honduras and her home country El Salvador.

Amy Fabbri, adult ESOL teacher in Moorefield

Amy has taught adult English classes for two years in Moorefield.

The most common languages spoken in Amy’s class are Burmese, Spanish, Haitain Creole, Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia), and Mam, a Mayan language spoken in in Guatemala. 

“They are very respectful,” Amy said of her students. “They are eager to learn.” 

Chriss Spina, teaching assistant at the ESOL Class

Before Moorefield’s ESOL class found its current, permanent home, Chriss used to keep boxes of learning supplies in her car.

As the longtime teaching assistant for the class, Chriss bounced around from location to location. They were based in the library temporarily. They moved to the Presbyterian Church. They were even located on the property of Pilgrim’s Pride for some time.

But of all the places she’s worked in, Chriss says, the class’ current location with its wood paneling walls and welcoming atmosphere feels like home.