(ran NS, S editions of TAMPA BAY AND STATE)
From the back of the room Thursday, Dinh Dau waved to three of his children, who sang and danced on stage to all-American tunes.
"This is the best country," Dau said. "My dream come true."
Dau moved his family from Vietnam to Clearwater less than two years ago. He and his six children are still learning to speak English, and three of them are enrolled in the county's ESOL program, which stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages.
Thursday, the Daus _ Thanh, 11, Phuoc, 9, and Ly, 8 _ were among 85 ESOL pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade who presented an Independence Day program at Lake St. George Elementary School.
Coming here meant "my future, too," Dau said.
Sonia Hoyos, 12, spoke no English when she arrived from Colombia two years ago. But Thursday, decked out as the Statue of Liberty, she recited the poem inscribed at the base of the famous landmark. Sonia, who speaks Spanish and English, played the same role a year ago.
"At first I was nervous," she said. "But then I did it last year."
Like many of the children and their parents in the audience Thursday, Sonia had high praise for the ESOL teachers. "They helped me a lot," she said.
"They love school," Liliane Saberin said of her children enrolled in ESOL classes, Nuri, 7, and Natalia, 10. "They give them attention."
Mrs. Saberin and her husband, Mey, lived in New York years ago, and at home they speak a mixture of Persian, Portuguese and English. When they moved to Oldsmar from Brazil three months ago, her children "couldn't speak a word of English," said Mrs. Saberin, a native of Iran. "Now they're speaking English."
Their quickness does not surprise her. "They're kids," she said.
The Saberins and other parents said they encourage their children to continue to keep up with their native tongues.
"We want to keep our first language," said Maria Chaar, whose family moved to Palm Harbor last year from Puerto Rico.
Her husband, Jorge, videotaped the performances of their children, Jorge, 7, and Maria, 9, who now speak Spanish and English.
"It's good that they know both," Mrs. Chaar said.
On stage, the children wore handmade hats, vests, sashes and ties. They sang along to a toe-tapping soundtrack of patriotic songs and recited the famous sayings of some of America's best-known historical figures.
When asked what they liked about America, many of the children said, "It's clean."
"I like the schools, the amusement parks, and I like the way they treat people," said Raymond Diaz, a 10-year-old from Puerto Rico.
And the significance of the Fourth of July does not escape them.
This country is "a lot different than Colombia," said Sonia, the Lady Liberty. "More freedom."