Rahway's ESL Graduates Return to Build Their Lives in the Community That First Embraced Them

Claudia and Clodomiro Monterosa, Nohemi Portillo Reyes and son, Neyri Carbajal Mendoza with son and daughter, Diana Lagatutta, Paola Martinez and daughter, and Diane Hurtado and daughter. Credits: Joseph Mudrak

RAHWAY, NJ - These were not the usual Rahway High School Back-To-School Night programs.  No, for some they were events touched by a special blend of pride, gratitude and, above all, love.

For the past two years, when the parents of students in Diane Lagatutta’s ESL class attend the event, almost all share a common, very fond memory.  They once sat in those same desks now occupied by their children. They were also eager to visit the teacher to whom they caringly refer as ‘Miss’, for it was she who became their mentor, their champion and, ultimately, their friend.  ‘Miss’ had helped each of them face the challenges of living and learning in a new country adrift in a language they didn’t understand.

Throughout her 27 year career as Rahway High School’s only ESL teacher, Ms. Lagatutta has dedicated her energies and, quite often, her emotions to guiding her students from countries such as El Salvador, Peru, Haiti, Columbia, Egypt, and the Phillipines.  Her students were always eager to share their stories and their struggles each day with her and ‘Miss’ made sure to provide an arena for them that was always warm, safe, nurturing, and supportive.  She is proud to affirm that “their adolescence was so rewarding and they felt so welcomed by the community that they decided to make their homes and raise their families in the town that made them feel they were truly home.  It is a tribute to all of Rahway.”

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Former RHS graduate and ESL student, Pilar Celis, offers moving testimony on her years at the high school.“Today, I am very pleased with myself of what I have accomplished thanks to what I learned in Rahway High School.  I was introduced to English as a Second Language where Ms. Lagatutta was the teacher.  Not only

she taught me English but helped me to build my character to overcome barriers and to achieve goals.  RHS helped me to make a relationship with the people and Rahway became my family.”  Ms. Celis’ daughter is a student at Roosevelt Elementary School where, “she follows a curriculum but is encouraged to continue practicing her parents’ native language and culture.”

Touched by the stories shared by so many of these new members to the community, Mayor Samson Steinman was eager to express his feelings.  “Rahway signifies growth and unity.  When former Rahway ESL graduates maneuvered through Rahway Board Education, grew up, had their own families and felt so confident to trust us with their children, it really signifies just what an amazing job was done and the mark we have left on each and every student.”

Echoing Mayor Steinman’s sentiments, Pilar Celis offers what has also been said by so many of her former classmates and ESL students: “I consider that Rahway is the best place to raise my daughter and there is not better place than Rahway to be called home.”

‘Miss’ would definitely agree.

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