College reaching out to non-English speakers
Maxine Alper understands the powerlessness a person can feel in a foreign country.
During the first few years of the eight she spent teaching English in Guatemala, Alper was acutely aware of how the language barrier affected her daily life.
But now that she is back in her native country, the college instructor’s life is devoted to helping others get over the feeling of isolation in a foreign culture.
Alper is part of a new wave of community outreach efforts now brewing in the English as a Second Language program at Lake Tahoe Community College.
In the past, bringing ESL students through campus doors has been a challenge, said LTCC Dean of Instruction Patricia Flanigan. Even factors like lengthy class registration forms, transportation and tuition fees have created stumbling blocks for many residents who wish to learn English.
“We were asking them to fit into boxes they don’t fit into,” Flanigan said. “Reaching the limited English proficiency population in this town has been a challenge. If they are unable to come to us, we want to reach out to them.”
A recent community round-table discussion resulted in local businesses and the Lake Tahoe Unified School District joining efforts with the college.
Plans and pilot programs are now in the works to custom design courses in convenient locations that accommodate non-traditional work shifts. Thanks to a reimbursement program from the state, Flanigan hopes to launch a series of cost-free classes for non-credit in the fall of 1998. Offering courses for no credit enables students to drop out and rejoin classes – without penalty – as jobs and family demands change.
“We want to target beginning or intermediate adult students – eight to 12 hours a week – entirely free,” Flanigan said. “With the non-credit courses, we’re able to focus on specific needs, like developing workplace skills and vocabulary. Many are hard workers who are simply not promotable due to their limited English skills.”
Alper’s pilot class, offered at the Family Resource Center next to Bijou Community School, has brought many young mothers out of the isolation of their homes.
“Our objective here is to empower the mothers by learning English,” Alper said. “We’ve had an unbelievable turnout. This will help a woman do independent things like go to the supermarket alone, talk to her children’s teachers and make dentist appointments. If children have to translate for them, there’s a loss of liberty – that can put the child in the care-taking position.”
College ESL classes are currently offered at Bijou School, the Family Resource Center and South Tahoe Middle School, however most are not yet cost-free. Several LTCC courses are also currently offered through casino employers.
“(These classes) are very important to our Spanish-speaking population – and other non-English speakers,” said Enrique Cortes, an ESL instructor. “This will be a tremendous help in assimilating into this culture. Many are afraid to go to the college – they’re afraid they won’t find anyone who speaks their language.”
In fact, Cortes, in noticing the tremendous need, volunteered to teach free Bijou ESL classes for four months prior to the college becoming affiliated.
Child care, however, still continues to be offered strictly by volunteers. Coordinators are actively seeking funding for child-care supervisors.
“I’ve seen a rise in self esteem in many of the women in our classes,” said Family Resource Center Coordinator Delicia Spees. “Many Latino women are brought up to think the male will provide – many don’t drive – they’ll walk here, carrying their kids. But this empowers them – children are seeing their mothers blossom before them.”
“I’m just giving them tools and I’ve seen amazing transformations,” echoed Alper. “As a community effort, we can do anything. It’s a matter of seeing a need and working together to meet those needs.”
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