NORWOOD, Pa. (WPVI) — “About 10 years ago I worked with a specific group of English language learners and they came from all walks of life,” said Andrea Bitner. “Adopted children, exchange students, children who were born here, children who waited for these visas.”

Bitner, a teacher at Norwood Elementary School, had no intention of becoming an English teacher. But after being paired with a group as a reading specialist, she fell in love with the people.

She had cultivated a strong community of bilingual students by teaching them more than the language. She also helped them apply for higher education, get driver’s licenses and more.

But everyone’s perspective changed when a student, Nancy Lopez, tragically died after being hit by a train in 2015.

“If I’ve learned anything from her, it’s just looking at the world with different lenses,” Bitner said.

Bitner praised Lopez with a poem she wrote about the trip to America. And his words sent shockwaves throughout the community.

Following the response to her poem, Bitner felt encouraged to share even more stories about her bilingual students.

“I took about six months and went back and interviewed 11 of my former English learners who are now in their late twenties, early thirties, all amazing bilingual working professionals. around the world,” she said. “And I told them, you know, what was that experience really like for you?”

A student from Lebanon, Roy Abboud, became assistant director of capital development at Amtrak.

“Miss Andrea taught us a lot of English about how to apply for colleges,” he said. “Everything we need, she was there for us.”

Another student, Christian Nshimiyimana, emigrated from Rwanda and is now a senior accountant at La Colombe Coffee Roasters.

“15 years ago we were just deer in the headlights,” he said. “But when people have the opportunity, they can do as well as anyone.”

The finished book is titled “Take Me Home” and illustrates these journeys while weaving Nancy Lopez’s story throughout. Bitner hopes it raises awareness of how English-speaking Americans can be good stewards for their community.

“When you meet someone who is learning a language for the first time, look at this time in their life as an asset, not a deficit,” she said.

To learn more, visit Andrea Bitner’s website.

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