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.
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.
"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."