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    Maria Harrington uses games to help kids learn Spanish at Casa de Español in midtown Sacramento. Her lessons reinforce that a bilingual lifestyle is cool.


    Maria Harrington started with 20 students at Casa de Español; the school now has 130, both adults and children.

Cathie Anderson: Teacher spreads the (Spanish) word

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 - 9:17 pm

Maria Harrington is working to nurture pride in the Spanish language in the Sacramento region, something she almost lost as a child.

"My mom went to the principal at my elementary and said, 'Oh, you should start teaching Spanish here' because half the population at my school was Latino," the 30-year-old educator recalled. "My mom was studying to be a bilingual education teacher at Sac State, and the principal said, 'There will never be Spanish here. To be American, you have to speak English.'

"… I was in that conversation and her words really affected me. I stopped speaking Spanish completely for about six years, and I was really embarrassed that my mom spoke Spanish, that she had an accent."

Then, at Elk Grove High School, Harrington found that students of other races admired her ability to speak a little Spanish. It was very broken, however, as visits to family in Mexico revealed. That set her on a quest.

First came degrees in Spanish and international relations from Holy Names University and then a master's in Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. After that, she taught Spanish at Oakland's Holy Names and at St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley.

Then in fall 2011, Harrington and her husband, Johnny Walker, opened a Spanish language school, Casa de Español, at 2115 J St. in Sacramento.

She started with 20 students; now she has 130. Adult students include doctors, lawyers and school principals at different levels. Children include novices and heritage speakers who stopped speaking the language one day. Harrington's mom volunteers there, but the for-profit business now employs three part-time teachers and a receptionist.

Go big or go home

Sherman Haggerty did the unthinkable in 1994, smack dab in the middle of a housing slump. As other builders focused on small homes at low prices, Haggerty went big, 4,000 square feet worth of big.

He had just arrived to lead the Sacramento division of U.S. Home Corp., the Fort Worth-based builder acquired by Lennar Corp. in 2000.

"We worked to develop large-square-footage homes that were cost-efficient to build," Haggerty explained. "We used standard-sized materials, so there wasn't a lot of extra labor or waste. We got all of our contractors involved in helping us engineer ways to make the heating, electrical and air-conditioning very efficient. We were able to get the price for construction down to $40 per square foot. Then, it was probably about $65-$70 a foot. … We were able to give a lot more value."

If you're a resident of Mother Lode Village in Gold River, you just might be reading this column in the home that became a huge seller nationwide for 10 years: the Jackson plan.

"It had a big bonus room over the garage," Haggerty said. "… Actually a couple of other builders tried to copy it, but we had copyrighted all those plans."

Some say this feat is why the California Homebuilding Foundation named Haggerty to its Hall of Fame this year, but the 63-year-old retiree thinks he got the nod for his community service.

As a leader at Lennar, he guided projects that renovated residential facilities at Halcyon Place, a facility for the mentally ill, and at other properties run by Volunteers of America. On the board of the Building Industry Association, he played a seminal role in bringing HomeAid to Sacramento. The agency supplies beds to transitionally homeless people.

At River Oak Center for Children in Sacramento, HomeAid's donations and volunteers have remodeled a building into a center where traumatized children can be diagnosed; renovated a commercial kitchen; and built two 5,000-square-foot dormitories to house a total of 40 children ages 2-14.

Haggerty is reminiscing at the mission-style home in El Dorado Hills where he lives with his wife, Rita, and her mother. Their four children are grown and making their own way. As a visitor takes in picture-perfect views of the Sacramento Valley, Haggerty talks with singular focus about his work as chairman of the board for Volunteers of America.

"People just have no idea of the plight of the homeless, how they got there, just the fine line between everybody else and the homeless. That's really a fine line," he said. "It's not a choice that they're making or anything."

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