District 21 seeks to expand language services for newcomers

Ania Figueroa knows firsthand the struggles of being a student whose first home language isn't English.

Figueroa's family moved from Chile to the United States just shy of her 12th birthday. She was an English as a Second Language student at a time when schools in the Northwest suburbs didn't offer much to help Spanish-speaking students get acclimatized.

“It was my light bulb moment, and I knew from then on that I would study ESL and bilingual courses,” said Figueroa, the new director of language services for Wheeling Township District 21.

About 50% of District 21 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade across six communities are English Language Learners. The district has robust bilingual and dual language programs for native speakers whose goal is achieving biliteracy by the end of fifth grade. Figueroa, who was hired on last year during the pandemic, said the district is looking to strengthen its programming offered to students who qualify for language services.

“We have about 70 languages represented in our community in Wheeling (District 21),” Figueroa said.

Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish are the top four languages spoken among students, but languages from India - Tamil and Telugu - also are growing as the district welcomes new immigrants, she added.

More than 70% of District 21 students come from multilingual families. There also has been a recent influx of students from Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Peru and a large contingent from Ukraine.

“We have welcomed more than 150 new-to-the-country families since May 1,” Figueroa said. “We are looking at just programming in general to see how we can enrich those opportunities for students, expanding language services to support the diverse learners ... whether it is through supporting the newcomers in their heritage language (or) expanding the opportunity for those that do want to learn another language.”

Elmhurst University will host two events in October celebrating the Rev. William R. Johnson, a 1968 alumnus and the first openly gay person to be ordained by a mainline Christian denomination. courtesy of Elmhurst University

Coming Out Day

Elmhurst University will host two events in October celebrating the Rev. William R. Johnson, a 1968 alumnus and the first openly gay person to be ordained by a mainline Christian denomination.

For National Coming Out Day on Tuesday, the university will host “Out and Faithful: A Multifaith Celebration of Queer Spirituality and a Call to Advocacy” to honor the 50th anniversary of Johnson's ordination in 1972 by the United Church of Christ.

The celebration will include a panel of speakers reflecting on spirituality and human sexuality, plus a call to advocacy. It is sponsored by the Elmhurst University Chaplaincy and the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ.

“Out and Faithful” will begin at 7 p.m. in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst. Admission is free and open to the public.

Journalist, author and activist Mark Segal will present this year's Elmhurst University William R. Johnson Intercultural Lecture on Oct. 19. The annual forum explores the issues and stories of the LGBTQIA+ community. courtesy of Elmhurst University

On Oct. 19, journalist, author and activist Mark Segal will present this year's Elmhurst University William R. Johnson Intercultural Lecture. The annual forum explores issues and stories of the LGBTQIA+ community.

A participant in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, Segal founded the Philadelphia Gay News and wrote the memoir “And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality.”

His lecture is titled “From Stonewall to the White House: Media as a Weapon for Change.” It will begin at 4 p.m. in the university's Frick Center, Founders Lounge. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information and to RSVP, visit

Diwali festival

The 5th annual Diwali Mela Chicago will run from 1 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Community Christian Church Yellow Box, 1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville.

Diwali, which falls on Oct. 24 this year, is the South Asian “Festival of Lights.” Millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains globally celebrate the festival, which symbolizes the triumph of good over evil with such rituals as putting up lights, setting off fireworks and enjoying sweets and family gatherings.

The mela will include arts and crafts, musical entertainment, cultural events, food, children's activities, dance competitions by troupes from renowned schools from Chicago and the suburbs, and vendors selling clothing, jewelry and accessories. Dance participants will compete in groups in the minor, junior, senior and adults categories to win the Best of the Best Dance School of Chicago award.

The event is free and open to the public.

Mexican American artist Daniel Ramos' "Abuela, Lampazos DeNaranjo, Nuevo León, Mexico, 2002" is one of the pieces featured at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake. It is part of the exhibit "Eight Hours Don't Make A Day," which runs through Oct. 28. Courtesy of McHenry County College

Latino artist talk

Mexican American artist Daniel Ramos will be at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Oct. 19 for a talk and reception showcasing his works being exhibited at the college.

The exhibit, titled “Eight Hours Don't Make A Day,” is a selection of photographic works from three of Ramos's series: “Sloan Valve,” “The Land of Illustrious Men” and “Eres Muy Hermosa (You are Very Beautiful)”. It will run through Oct. 28 in Art Galleries One and Two, inside and outside the college library. Pieces also will be on display in the Epping Gallery across from the MCC Store in Building B of the campus at 8900 Route 14.

Born and raised in Pilsen, a Mexican American neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, Ramos began making images of his family members, neighbors, and co-workers, who were first-generation immigrants and members of the working class.

“The Land of Illustrious Men,” on display in Gallery One, is a photo-novella of Ramos's life as the son of working-class immigrants.

Ramos created “Sloan Valve,” on display in Gallery Two, while working as a hand-polisher at the company of the same name specializing in flushing valves. “Eres Muy Hermosa,” on view in Epping Gallery, primarily is composed of portraits featuring people in bars and clubs as well as night scenes in a small town in northern Mexico.

Ramos' talk will be at 2:30 p.m. in the college's Luecht Auditorium. The reception will follow at 3:30 p.m. in Gallery One. The event is free and open to the public.

Donations for migrants

Wesley United Methodist Church in Aurora is accepting donations for immigrants arriving in Chicago from Texas.

Donations may be left in the lobby of the church at 14 N. May St.

The Rev. John Bell, Wesley pastor, said the migrants' immediate needs are for small-size clothing, including socks, underwear and sports bras, first aid kits, over-the-counter medications, personal hygiene items, duffel bags and small suitcases. Volunteers also are needed for donation sorting, distribution and food service.

Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist legal aid agency, is helping migrants with paperwork and court dates. To assist, visit

"Adira" by Ronit Galazan will be among the pieces featured in Oakton Community College's Women's Art Show opening Thursday at the Des Plaines campus. Courtesy of Oakton Community College

Women's art show

If you'd like to explore how women create courageous spaces, empower each other and change the world, visit the annual Women's Art Show at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

The free exhibit, themed “Our Bodies, Our Health: Navigating the Wars Within and Around Us,” will run Thursday through Nov. 10 at Oakton's Koehnline Museum of Art, 1600 E. Golf Road. It is presented by Oakton's Women's and Gender Studies Program and features works by professional artists worldwide.

A public reception for the artists will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Koehnline Museum of Art.

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