WORTHINGTON - A Worthington Adult Basic Education and ESL student was recently recognized as an Outstanding Learner by the Minnesota Literacy Council.

Chansamouth “Thomas” Khenkitisak received a certificate for his dedication to regularly attending class and motivating others to do the same.

“I thought of Thomas immediately,” said Diane Andersen, an Independent School District 518 ABE/ESL teacher, after learning that nominations for the award were being sought. “He is a leader in our classroom.”

Khenkitisak has been practicing his English skills at the West Learning Center site since 2014. He started in the beginner class, but quickly transferred to the intermediate section. Within another year, he propelled to the advanced section, which may be attributed to his perfect attendance and routinely working ahead in his workbook.

Khenkitisak continues to practice his English skills by attending class four days per week, where he and his peers learn more vocabulary and practice reading, writing and conversation skills. He brings a positive, light hearted attitude to class to encourage his peers and leads an after class study group.

“Don’t sigh, don’t (be) scared and don’t worry about answering wrong,” Khenkitisak often reminds his classmates, encouraging them to speak up if they don’t understand something. “I want to make people go up - don’t be discouraged.”

In addition to supporting his peers in the classroom, Khenkitisak also frequently volunteers to pick up and drive classmates who don’t have another mode of transportation to class. He does this free of charge, but some students offer to chip in for gas, he said.

Volunteering to drive others that couldn’t was actually how Khenkitisak learned about the district’s free Adult Basic Education classes.

“I wanted to learn more English,” he said about his decision to enroll in classes. Enrolling in classes also helped him secure a living arrangement.

As someone who has always had others best interests in mind, Khenkitisak helps new immigrants in the community when he can by taking them to the doctor or to tax appointments. He stays and interprets in Lao so they can understand. He’s also taken some Hispanic friends to appointments. While he can’t speak Spanish, Khenkitisak tries to converse with them in English in a way they’re able to more easily understand as a non-native English speaker.

Originally from Laos, Khenkitisak and his brother traveled to the United States in 1979 from a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand. Language differences were always something Khenkitisak was worried about, as he writes in personal pieces of work published in “Journeys,” an anthology of written work by Adult Basic Education students across Minnesota. He’s been published in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions.

Khenkitisak has lived in various states since moving to the U.S., but has called Worthington home for more than 10 years. He also earned U.S. citizenship more than a decade ago.