Pa. teacher pens book about bilingual students living American dream

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Friday, June 10, 2022
Pa. teacher pens book about bilingual students living American dream
Everyone has a story to tell. Some can tell it in two or more languages. And that's what inspired Ms. Andrea Bitner to become an author.

NORWOOD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "About 10 years ago, I worked with a specific group of English language learners and they came from all different walks of life," said Andrea Bitner. "Adopted kids, exchange students, kids that were born here, kids that have waited for those visas."

Bitner, a teacher at Norwood Elementary School, hadn't intended on becoming an instructor of the English language. But after being paired with a group as a reading specialist, she fell in love with the population.

She had cultivated a strong community of bilingual students by teaching them more than just language. She also helped them apply for higher education, seek out driver's licenses and more.

But everyone's perspective changed when one student, Nancy Lopez, tragically passed away after being struck by a train in 2015.

"If I've learned anything from her, it was to just look at the world with various lenses," said Bitner.

Bitner eulogized Lopez with a poem she wrote about the journey to America. And her 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 I went back and I interviewed 11 of my former English language learners who are now in their late 20s, early 30s, all amazing bilingual professionals working out in the world," she said. "And I said to them, you know, what was that experience really like for you?"

One student from Lebanon, Roy Abboud, went on to become the Assistant Capital Development Manager with Amtrak.

"Miss Andrea taught us a lot from English to how to apply for colleges," he said. "Anything 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 folks are given the opportunity, then they can do just as good 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 for how English-speaking Americans can be good stewards to their community.

"When you meet someone who's learning a language for the first time, treat that time in their life like an asset and not a deficit," she said.

To learn more, visit Andrea Bitner's website.

RELATED: Delaware student authors channel challenges into short stories

High school students in Newark, Delaware, are tackling life's difficult moments with a pen and paper in hand.