Mercedes turns over the letter. "H!" she calls.

The 11 kindergartners sitting in a circle scan their cards. Several push pieces of paper over an "H.""B!" comes the next letter, then another and another until a small child finally shouts, "Bingo."

"That was the last game for today," announces Vi Esquibel.

The alphabet bingo cards are quietly put away, and the children hurry to the tables bearing their name cards.

It's "good news" time.

Esquibel tells the "good news": Jorge, who only knew one letter last week, now knows several. The kindergartners applaud his success.

Another student has also succeeded in an academic task. "Give her a hand," Esquibel says. The 5-year-olds clap enthusiastically again.

For 17 years, Esquibel has taught the alphabet and the other learning basics - reading, math and language - and has boosted the self-esteem of children who, without the help of her and her fellow teachers, would probably have been on the path to academic underachievement and failure.

Esquibel teaches at the Guadalupe School, an alternative school in the Salt Lake School District. Guadalupe, which offers classes in kindergarten through third grade, serves disadvantaged children whose future in the regular school system would be painted with failure without special help.

"These are children from a poverty background. Their parents are usually high school dropouts. But these are children from an American background of poverty. They are English speaking," explained Fred-rica Nebeker, Guadalupe development director.

" . . . We have had real successes here. We're not saying we can solve all of these kids' problems, but we are saying education is their best chance," Nebeker said.

Established 23 years ago as a Catholic mission to help immigrants adjust to new culture, the Guadalupe Center soon began its Early Learning Center to equip poor and minority children with the necessary academic tools to succeed in school.

The center is now non-denomina-tional and has received donations from the area's major religions. It also receives funds from the United Way and private donations.

The center's 69 students are bused from throughout the city's west side to the school, located in the old 16th LDS Ward at 129 N. 600 West. The children are fed both school breakfast and lunch besides a full academic program.

Soon the school, with the help of the George S. Eccles Foundations and many corporations, will move to larger quarters at 340 Goshen.

The move was made necessary by the school's plan to add a preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in January. Citing educational studies, school officials, in a paper on the preschool plans, report that early intervention can have long-term effects on disadvantaged children.

The Guadalupe Preschool will focus on building language arts skills. "We believe that increased facility with language - reading, writing, speaking and comprehension - is the key to the amelioration of poverty," Nebeker said.

Nebeker said the school needs at least $100,000 to start the preschool.


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Fund-raisers this week

The Wilford Brimley Foundation will host two fund-raisers for the Guadalupe School this week.

- Thursday: Brimley, who starred in such movies as "The Natural," "Cocoon" and "Tender Mercies," and his celebrity friends will hold a Symphony Hall concert at 7 p.m.

Among the scheduled celebrities are Brimley; "Home Show" host Gary Collins and his wife, singer/actress Mary Ann Mobley; songwriter Paul Williams; Western songwriter and singer Red Steagull; jazz pianist Joyce Collins; and cowboy poet Baxter Black.

The $20 tickets are available at Smith'sTix, Salt Palace box office and Symphony Hall.

- Friday: Brimley and his wife, Lynne, a Guadalupe School volunteer, will join celebrities and others at a 6 p.m. dinner dance and auction at the Red Lion hotel. The cost is $150 per person. Auction items include cruises, courtside tickets at Jazz games and celebrity memorabilia.