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Making a Difference: Meet Mitko Varadinov, ELL instructor at Ritenour’s Adult Learning Center

Mitko Varadinov Mitko Varadinov’s passion for helping adults learn to speak, read and understand English stems from his love of teaching and commitment to welcoming new immigrants.

Mitko Varadinov, an English Language Learner (ELL) instructor with the Ritenour Adult Learning Center, has taught evening classes for new immigrants for the last four years. Up until recently, he also was a substitute teacher in Ritenour’s two middle schools and at Ritenour High School but now fills his days as a paraprofessional in a neighboring school district. 

Growing up in Bulgaria, he knows what it’s like to be a newcomer to St. Louis and adjust to a new language and culture. As a teacher, he has enjoyed witnessing the growth in families that are learning English together.

“A very interesting phenomenon was seeing the impact made on parents in the AEL program transfer on their children in the schools,” said Varadinov. “It was really fun seeing the kids during the day and teaching their parents at night. We would often have conversations on how the kids are doing at school. Seeing both parties progress intellectually and academically makes my job wonderful, challenging and rewarding.”

Varadinov moved to the Ritenour area from Bulgaria with his family when he was in middle school in 1998. His transition to the new culture and language in the United States still guides his teaching at AEL.

“Seeing them (my parents) bravely struggle with the language, financially, and culturally made me very empathetic towards newcomers to this country, but moreover, made me understand what newcomers need, how they should be treated, and how they should be welcomed,” Varadinov said.

Prior to working in Ritenour, Varadinov worked at local restaurants and in the construction field. He earned a bachelor’s degree and secondary education teaching certification in social studies from University of Missouri-St. Louis.

 

More about Varadinov:

Question: What is the most rewarding part of your job in Ritenour’s AEL program?

Varadinov: It is hard to pinpoint, but seeing adults prosper in life, whether it is getting a new job, or just grasping a concept such as “future continuous tense” makes no difference, as it’s very often expressed in their gratitude, motivation and their happiness with the class. When people around you are happy you tend to be happy, yourself.

Question: Tell us a little about your background growing up in Bulgaria and why you emmigrated to the U.S.

Varadinov: After Communism fell in Bulgaria in 1989,it was a time of transition to a capitalistic state. Our currency (BG Lev) fell dramatically and everyone struggled financially. My mother was a nurse, and my father a librarian. We had our own house, but struggled to put food on the table. In 1998 they (my dad) won a Green Card, making us permanent U.S. residents, and moving to the USA became inevitable and a great opportunity. (My childhood) was incredibly wonderful in Bulgaria. I couldn't understand our financial predicament as I wandered the streets freely with my friends meeting new people, rarely getting into trouble, playing soccer, freely visiting the mountains, bazaars, and city streets. As a matter of fact, when I moved to the USA, I was really surprised when I got into trouble because one morning I missed my bus, and ended up walking two to three miles to school, walking into third hour, and finding out that the school had contacted the police, my parents, and school administrators, and they were searching for me during my stroll. 

Question: What are some of your hobbies or outside interests?

Varadinov: I play soccer, and like riding my bicycle from Creve Coeur Lake to Main Street (in St. Charles) to have coffee with my friends. I also like movies and music.   

Question: What are some of your hobbies or outside interests?

Varadinov: I am a board member of the Ritenour AEL committee. I am also involved in the Bulgarian community, as I help out the Bulgarian Sunday school in St Louis as much as I can.