By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
During the workday, they wash dishes at Perkos and Rodz Grill, manicure lawns at Greenhorn Creek or clean motel rooms in Angels Camp and Murphys.
But on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they gather in the gymnasium at Mark Twain Elementary School.
The students in a nighttime English as a Second Language class are working to improve their lives.
When Calaveras County Office of Education began an adult education program last July, it was designed mainly to help people get their high school diplomas or take the high school equivalency test, the GED.
But Olga Moncada, a teacher's aide at Mark Twain Elementary School, urged County Superintendent of Schools John Brophy to offer an ESL class. She met with Brophy and Patrick Miller, who oversees the adult education program.
"I said we need to educate these people who come into our town," she said. "You may not notice them. They are behind-the-scenes people, but we need to make them welcome."
Moncada has a special bond with local Latinos who speak only Spanish. Born and raised in Mexico, she earned a degree in business administration from the University of Monterrey in Nuevo Leon. When she moved to Calaveras County in 1987 with her American-born husband and children, she did not speak English.
"They come here because they want to have a better life," she said. "I know how they feel. When I came here and heard people speaking I understood nothing.
"But I prayed for understanding."
And she took English classes at Columbia College.
Today, she is the bookkeeper at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in San Andreas and works as a teacher's aide in the ESL program at Mark Twain Elementary.
The ESL program began only two months ago and, Miller said, it is an unexpected success.
"We have about 65 students enrolled," he said. "It is our largest adult ed program."
The students have come to Calaveras County from Mexico, Peru and Bulgaria.