Elda Granados had many of the tools needed to speak English but lacked the connective tissue to use it.
Speaking in her second language in an interview Tuesday, Granados said she knew many English words but struggled to pair them with the correct verbs to form sentences. With the help of her employer, Granados took a 30-week course offering English classes online and in person.
In the midst of celebrating her graduation from McDonald’s English Under the Arches program, Granados said she felt more confident about her English and her ability to communicate with customers and her English-only coworkers.
Granados, who has worked at the McDonald’s at the Arrowhead Travel Plaza for the past six years, was one of 13 native Spanish speaking employees at the chain’s Pendleton and Mission restaurants to graduate from the course.
The graduation ceremony was at the Red Lion in Pendleton, the hotel where the employees took all of their courses.
Instructor Lori McNeil told the audience that this was the first English Under the Arches class she has taught that had a 100 percent retention rate from beginning to end. McNeil said it’s not uncommon for students to drop out if they transfer to another store or can’t handle the rigor.
In an interview after the ceremony, McNeil said the classes specifically focus on one of the areas Granados use to struggle with: verbs.
Whether it’s the past, present or future tense, McNeil said verbs are a highlight in the course, along with phonics and pronunciation.
Given that it’s a course sponsored by McDonald’s, McNeil said the curriculum is also centered around communicating in a fast-food restaurant setting.
The course these employees were graduating from was called “shift conversation,” and McNeil said English Under the Arches would also be offering a follow-up writing course if students were interested.
Pendleton Mayor John Turner was the featured speaker at the graduation. He encouraged the graduates to continue their education through a high school diploma or at Blue Mountain Community College, two paths where McDonald’s also offers assistance.
“I just wanted to say what a great achievement for you, thank you for going through this, thank you for taking a great step in your lives, and as the mayor of your city, I’m very proud of you.”
After his speech ended, Turner was presented with a hat depicting Mayor McCheese, the fictional mayor of McDonaldland who sports a cheeseburger for a head.
Lindsay Kirsh-Rainey, the field brand reputation manager for the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains, wrote in an email that English Under the Arches started four years ago as a part of its larger Archways to Opportunity program, which offers continuing education to employees.
The program is offered at every McDonald’s location and any employee that’s been with company for 90 days or longer is eligible.
Although employees aren’t required to stay with McDonald’s after they complete the program, the company notes that 88 percent of English Under the Arches students stay at their restaurant after one year and 78 percent after three years.
A “confidence booster” was a recurring benefit brought up by both students and McDonald’s officials.
Beau Willadsen, the owner of both McDonald’s in the Pendleton area, said he saw many of the employees growing in confidence as their English skills grew.
McNeil said many employees who were shy at the beginning of the course were more eager to converse in English to practice their skills.
Pendleton is fairly homogeneous — 78.7 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white.
But even though most of the world around them is English speaking, McNeil said many students knew very little English because of their shyness and unfamiliarity with the language, even though many workers had been at McDonald’s for many years.
Many students said they knew little to no English before starting the course, and some needed translators to help them answer questions.
And although the course is geared toward helping them communicate at work, some employees found benefits outside the job.
Miriam Lopez said she didn’t know much English before the course, but her family has noticed a lot of improvement in recent weeks.
Her daughter Shayna Medrano was helping her translate the questions she was being asked, and Lopez noted that Shayna and her siblings hadn’t been able to use English to keep secrets around her anymore, sparking smiles from both mother and daughter.