Citizenship classes teach American way

October 20, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - What many native-born Americans take for granted - a basic knowledge of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary and Civil wars, the flag, the 13 original colonies and how government works - must be learned by immigrants hoping to become U.S. citizens.

It's J. Philip Stapleton's job to see that they learn what they need to pass the citizenship test. It's not difficult, but the material covers a lot, he said.

An even bigger, more frustrating job, Stapleton said, is recruiting legal aliens to take the courses that lead to citizenship.

"We put up posters and send out press releases, but we're not reaching enough people. We're not reaching the people who need to take the course," he said.


Stapleton, 79, has been teaching citizenship courses in his home near the village of Five Forks north of Waynesboro for four years. Every year the number of students has dwindled.

"The first year I had 13 students. The next two years I had eight and this year only six signed up and five are taking it," he said.

Stapleton is a retired engineer from Waynesboro Tool Co. He also has owned two small businesses during his career. He grew up in southern Vermont and received his engineering training at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He came to Waynesboro in 1974 and retired in 1983.

Stapleton has spent much of the last 10 years as a volunteer tutor with the Franklin County Literacy Council, specializing in teaching English as a second language.

Citizenship candidates must be able to read and write English to take the course.

"It's given in English with few exceptions," Stapleton said.

Many of Stapleton's more recent students are from Mexico or Central America, but he has taught Thais, Nepalese, Brazilians, Swiss and Swedes over the years, he said. Many come to his classes with a good command of English, but don't know much about American history or government, Stapleton said.

"There's a lot to learn. What they've learned they've learned on television. They see President Clinton on television, but they don't know how it all works," he said.

"They know there's a lot at stake. Most of them come to America for economic reasons and they don't want to go back home and be poor again. They have a lot of enthusiasm and enjoy learning," Stapleton said. Stapleton's citizenship classes end with an international dinner.

"We do it to bring our different nationalities together. Everybody brings something to eat from their own country and dress in their native costume," he said.

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