Speaking Spanish brings on extra tasks for PJCC teacher Amy Klein

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Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School Spanish teacher Amy Klein does double-duty, translates for Spanish-speaking residents.

Editor’s Note: This continues a series of monthly articles celebrating pride in our town and its surroundings shown through the experience of residents and organizations.

By Jane Schuchardt

Special to the Elgin Review

¿Hablas bien el inglés? Translation – Do you speak English well?

Though it’s said that body language is 93 percent of communication, if the answer is “no” to the question above, it’s difficult, nearly impossible, to maneuver a medical or legal conversation. 

Enter Elgin area’s own Amy Klein for whom Spanish fluency is her forte.

Klein, who lives with husband Martin “Marty” and their four children on a farm near Raeville southeast of Elgin, acknowledges some think English ought to be the only language spoken in the United States. “The majority (of Spanish-speaking residents) are good people,” she said with passion. “If you can help someone, that’s what we’re here (on this earth) to do. I have this talent. Why not use it?”

She’s often called upon by Klein Law, her husband’s law firm based out of Neligh, to translate, primarily for misdemeanor or green card (permanent residency) cases. She also has translated for Elgin Public Schools, parent-teacher conferences at Norfolk High School, immigrant children trying to navigate in a new country, and with parents whose children are hospitalized. “I try to step up whenever asked with a positive attitude,” she said admitting that sometimes she gets a little anxious when not familiar with legal jargon.

Klein, 47, who grew up on a farm near Creighton and is definitely not of Spanish descent, got her inspiration from a high school teacher. “As a farm kid, I always knew I wanted to travel, see the world,” she said longingly. “This high school Spanish teacher opened up this whole realm of possibilities. I knew I wanted to speak Spanish fluently.”

That led her to six months of intensive study in Querétaro, northwest of Mexico City, at the Technological Institute of Monterrey during her college years. She holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduating in 1997, and a Master of Science in educational technology from Peru State College earned in 2001.

She’s been teaching, primarily Spanish with some speech and technology, for 27 years, and enters her fifth year at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic School this fall. In addition to the classroom at Pope John, she is the sponsor for the National Honor Society local chapter and, together with Peggy Payne, provides adult guidance for part of the school’s home room system. Both efforts require frequent community service projects such as sending Christmas boxes to children around the world, Valentine cards to U.S. service members primarily from the Elgin area, and cleaning flower gardens at The Homestead, a housing option in Elgin.

Klein plans to take 24 Pope John students to Spain next May where she has traveled before. Other travels, primarily with family, have taken her to Australia, Holland, and Italy. “Why not learn another language?” she said with honest inquisitiveness. “You’re only better off for it.”

Describing Spanish as a beautiful, musical, romantic language, she said, “You cannot learn the language without learning the culture.”

For more on this story, see this week’s Elgin Review.

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