Ditching class - May 8, 2003

By Bethany Norgaard
Independent Staff Writer

MARSHALL — Luis Cervantes picked up what he thought was an empty plastic cup in a ditch along state Highway 23 Wednesday morning and found a mouse inside. Cervantes was one of about 20 individuals from the Adult Basic Education classes in Marshall. The students cleaned two miles of ditches along the highway near Lynd as a community service project.

“I think it is a good idea,” said Cervantes, who lives in Marshall. “It’s OK.” Like the majority of individuals who cleaned Tuesday morning, Cervantes had not cleaned ditches before. “It is my first time,” he said, adding that he would be willing to do it again. “Why not?” Cervantes said.

Students volunteered their time while also fulfilling a requirement in a grant application for English classes that also teach civic concepts. “They’re leaning English in class, but we’re also trying to teach them civic responsibility, and part of that is volunteering,” said Pat Thomas, the coordinator for ABE.

On Wednesday, the students were more than willing to help. It was the first time ABE students cleaned ditches, and Thomas was not sure how many students would be willing to do it. But the students came. “I’m not surprised,” said Sally Belgum-Blad, an ABE teacher. “We talked about it in class and they said ‘yeah, we’ll do it.’ When these people say they’re going to do something, they do it. That’s how they’ve followed through with classes. They make commitments and stick to them.”

Arturo Montelongo drove to Marshall from Minneota to clean the ditch. He said he didn’t mind doing it. “It is a nice day,” he said. “It is OK to do it, because now there is no trash on the freeway.” Montelongo said he is enjoying his ABE classes. “They are good,” he said. “I am trying to get my GED so I can get a better job.”

Hussein Bati is another ABE student who came to clean along the highway. He said working with the others will still help him learn English. “We can talk to each other,” he said, adding that the classes have been helpful. “I am learning English.” Bati said he had never done anything like cleaning ditches before, but it was a good idea. “We want to keep the area clean,” he said. “It looks nice.”

ABE student Connie Kepler of Marshall said the United States should enact a program similar to the one Canada uses. Kepler said that while she was traveling through Canada, there were dumpsters along the road that contained empty garbage bags. “When your garbage bag in the car gets full, you throw it away and get a new one,” she said. “I noticed (Canada) was so nice and clean compared to how the United States is. Here, everyone just throws their garbage (outside). That’s too bad.”

Kepler also said that individuals in jail should be out cleaning the ditches. “That’s how it is in Arizona,” she said. “They had the chain gang out there cleaning garbage.” Wednesday was the first time Kepler cleaned along the highway, she said. “I would be willing to get a group together and then go clean the roads,” said Kepler, who is planning to move to Fairbault soon. “People don’t realize how much garbage is in the ditch.”

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