It’s Thursday night at the Trails at Vintage Creek Learning Center. The kids have left, and adult students are there for the English as a Second Language (ESL) class. It’s a diverse group of learners from around the world, most notably the Middle East, Central and South America and Eastern Europe. Foundation Communities paused the program at Vintage Creek during the pandemic and resumed last August and the demand was very high. Now, it’s even higher as the program includes free child care during class time.
At one point, the instructor has the students pair up and stretch the limits of their English speaking abilities to tell their partner what they did yesterday. For some, it’s relatively easy. For others, it’s a real struggle. Kellie Stiewert, the community engagement coordinator who manages the ESL classes for Vintage Creek, says the biggest challenge for the program is teaching students who are at various skill levels. Stiewert said, “Some of our folks are very literate. They have had college educations in their native countries. Some people have not had any schooling at all.” She says this is particularly true of women from Afghanistan, and recalls a current female student from that war-torn country who had to rely on her children for all forms of communication in English. Teachers use a combination of spoken words and visual gestures to help the beginner students. Bilingual ESL volunteers are a critical part of the program as they can provide one-on-one instruction at the student’s level.
Stiewert says for the her, the most exciting part of the program is seeing the students gain more confidence and independence through better communication, particularly the women from Afghanistan. The aforementioned woman is now able to walk into the property manager’s office by herself to discuss housing concerns for her family and keep up with what’s happening with her children in school. A better understanding of English also helps immigrants gain access to government benefits and assistance, and pass the test for American citizenship.
Probably the main goal for the students is to remove the language barrier that makes it difficult for non-English speakers to find good-paying jobs. A student who asked to not be identified said he left Belarus because his life was in danger after he expressed his political views. He trekked through South and Central America to get to Texas, and now that he’s here, he wants to fully utilize his experience as an electrician to earn a decent living. He said,”I need to communicate with different people… I need to study, maybe six months. Maybe after 2000 hours, I can, I will be able to work alone…I have to know English to study for that.”
A younger male student said he had to leave Venezuela last year after he took part in protests in college against the way the government handles the country’s economy. He’s now working on his English so he can communicate better in kitchens. His plan is to follow his life’s passion and become a chef. It’s his American dream.
Foundation Communities’ ESL classes are free and open to the public. They take place mornings and evenings Monday through Thursday at our Trails at Vintage Creek and Sierra Vista Learning Centers and online. Click here to learn more about enrollment.