Uvaldo Piedras – Teaching English as a Second Language

Most of us from rural communities, especially here in the mountains, have experienced a degree of prejudgment based on how we talk.  Those who are “more enlightened” often subtract IQ points as soon as they hear our accents.  Some time back a worker in Alleghany County faced a similar experience as he was considered for a job promotion.  Though he possessed the knowledge and ability to handle the new workload, his English language skills were lacking.  It was feared that those missing skills would be an impediment to customer service.  The job went to someone else.

Uvaldo, Elisa, and Nyjah

Uvaldo, Elisa, and Nyjah

Uvaldo Piedras experienced that struggle with language firsthand.  He came to Sparta from Mexico in 2003 when he was ten years old.  When he began elementary school classes he was unable to speak English.  Since kids generally have fewer inhibitions, he picked up the language in its basic form in 6-8 months.  This began his integration into Alleghany County life.

By 8th grade Uvaldo was fully engaged, participating in sports, specifically wrestling and track.  In high school he added football and power lifting.  At age 15 he could bench press 315 lbs.

In addition to his athletic ability, Uvaldo’s possessed strong math skills.  Back in Mexico, students didn’t use calculators.  Instead, they worked through math problems using pencil and paper.  Once he arrived in Sparta, Uvaldo still relied on pencil and paper.

But work sometimes got in the way of school activities.  Beginning at age 13 and all through high school, he worked in Christmas trees during the harvest season.  His father had spent 20 years working in Alleghany County before he brought his family to Sparta.  He instilled a strong work ethic in Uvaldo while stressing that education is the key to success.

After high school, Uvaldo worked at the New River Campground and the El Torito Restaurant before landing a job at the Parkdale Plant just outside of Sparta.

Then he faced a pivotal moment in life.  He became a father.

This news and the impending responsibility kicked his work ethic into overdrive.  He often worked 60-70 hours a week.  Recalling his dad’s advice on education, Uvlado enrolled in Wilkes Community College (WCC).  He volunteered for double shifts on the weekends so he could devote more time to school and being a parent.

At WCC, his talent for math was awakened when he took an accounting class.  He was told of an accounting job at TruLine Truss.  He applied and received the job.

At 23 years of age, Uvaldo’s life was on track.  He had a good job, was finishing his degree work at WCC, and was balancing work and school with being a single parent of two children.  He volunteered as a youth soccer coach.  Yet for all his personal success, he realized there were others in the community whose needs weren’t being met.  Many were hardworking individuals that lacked basic language skills to help move them to the next level of economic security.  Even though virtually every minute of his life was filled, he volunteered to help start an English as a Second Language (ESL) class at WCC.

MIguel Barientos

Uvaldo printed flyers and posted them around the county.  He contacted people he thought would be interested in the class.  The first night 35 adult students showed up and they had to move to a larger classroom.   The class now averages 15-20 with the harvest season siphoning off some students.

Imelda Sanchez

Utilizing a combination of PowerPoint presentation, lecture and practical exercise, the classes are set up based on the students’ needs.  A recent topic dealt with the language skills necessary for a doctor’s visit.  A student later reported that for the first time she made her own doctor’s appointment and attended without a translator.  Another student worked on skills that helped her successfully pass her United States citizenship test which led her to a better job.  The students are encouraged to use polite words such as “please” and “thank you” and Uvaldo challenges them to expand their vocabulary with college level words.  He urges them speak with confidence.

Melitza Velazquez

What’s next for Uvaldo?  He credits mentors at WCC with encouraging him to continue his education when he graduates from WCC next spring.  He has visited Berea College in Kentucky and hopes to attend there next fall.  The work/study program at Berea seems a perfect fit for Uvaldo.  He plans to begin preparing for his citizenship test.  Long-term he hopes to obtain his Certified Public Accountant license and return to Sparta.  He describes Alleghany County as a great place to live, work and raise a family.


Opportunities exist to volunteer with the ESL program.  A special need is for childcare workers while the parents are in class.  Call The Alleghany Center of Wilkes Community College at 336-372-5061 for more information on volunteering or enrolling in classes.

NC Mountain Arts Adventure Studio Tour 2015

tour 001Mid-October is one of the best times to visit Alleghany County.  Backroads wind through the county revealing beautiful fall foliage canopying each curve.  The days are light-jacket crisp with cool, but moderate temperatures.  Leftover pumpkins litter the fields as farmers take a brief break before beginning the Christmas tree the harvest.  An easy conversation can begin by asking the locals who the Appalachian State Mountaineers play that week.

A welcome addition to this autumn ritual is the NC Mountain Arts Adventure studio tour.  It is a great opportunity to visit with the artists where the art is made.  The tour is self-paced and guests can set out to cover all 16 artists, or choose to spend more time getting to know a few of the craftsmen.

Jewelweed Studio is number 6 on the tour.  Located at 185 Gumtree Lane, Sparta, Gary Medley and Alan Joyce create true works of art in stained glass.  Examples of their work can be found at http://www.jewelweedstudio.com/ or you can follow them on Facebook here.

Cave Rock Chapel

Cave Rock Chapel – Stained glass by Jewelweed Studio

Carolina Farm Table is located in Sparta at the corner of East Doughton and Alleghany Street beside the Alleghany Law Enforcement Center.  Their custom furniture shop specializes in handcrafted farm tables.  Their product line can be viewed at http://www.carolinafarmtable.com/ and here on Pinterest.  A profile of co-owner Devin Ulery can be read on the Absolutely Alleghany blog.

Handcrafted by Carolina Farm Table

Handcrafted by Carolina Farm Table

Located on Main Street in Sparta, Studio Redwood offers a variety of art classes including painted furniture and faux finish.  Offered for sale are one of a kind repurposed furniture, framed prints and whimsical, handmade items.  Owner Chris Davis’ work can be seen here on Studio Redwood’s Facebook page.

Art students at Studio Redwood

Art students at Studio Redwood

High on a hill overlooking the mountains, Mountain Jazmin Baskets owner Kathryn Abernathy weaves a variety of natural materials into intricate and aesthetically pleasing baskets.  While each basket is a piece of art, all are practical and functional.  Mountain Jazmin Baskets is located at 292 Walnut Branch Church Rd., Sparta, NC.

Mountain Jazmin Baskets

The natural beauty of Alleghany County coupled with the work of fine artists reinforces the opinion of many that fall is truly the best season of the year.

tour artists

tour map