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English Under the Archways graduates gather to celebrate their success

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: CLAIRE GREEN - Minerva Garcia teared up during her graduation speech, thanking her classmates and teacher for their support.

Wednesday, March 8, was a big day for 15 McDonald's employees. In a private room in Argyle Square in Wilsonville, the group — composed of employees from 10 different restaurants, including Wilsonville and West Linn — celebrated their graduation from the English Under the Arches program.

Graduates sat at long tables lined with balloons, congratulatory cards, flowers and gifts. But as the program's third class completed the course, co-owner and operator Jared Ray said that English Under the Arches is about more than improving employees' English skills: It's about improving their social and financial equity.

"You'd be amazed about how excited they are to come to class," English instructor Bernie Bernardo said. SPOKESMAN PHOTO: CLAIRE GREEN - Graduates await their names being called during the graduation ceremony with their managers sitting behind them in support.

A part of the more formal Archways to Opportunities program that helps employees earn their high school diplomas, pay for college and plan for future career development through education, the English improvement program is designed to help McDonald's employees bridge language gaps.

"Most of the people came to us along the way and expressed an interest in moving up to management," Ray said. "So this is the first step for a lot of individuals where English isn't their first language."

The program consists of a 22-week class, six of which are in-person classes held in Wilsonville and the remainder are over the phone via distance learning conference calls. Of this cohort, the average number of years graduates have worked for the company is eight years.

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: CLAIRE GREEN - After months of studying and preparation, Leonel Hernandez of Wilsonville was excited to recieve his certificate. He will soon join the management team at the Wilsonville restaurant."It's been a really great program and, frankly, I'm really proud of these people, because how hard would it be to take on another language while working your regular job and taking care of your family?" Ray said. "I'm in awe of them being able to take this step."

Contact Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Claire Green at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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