Flexible, Local English Classes Empower Immigrants with Independence

Posted on March 13, 2018 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

First Crucial Step

By Elaine Roberts
Director of the International Center at Immigrant and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities NY

Despite the promises and protections provided by our status as a sanctuary city, many of our immigrant neighbors live in great fear today.  Members of immigrant communities throughout the city are hesitant to leave their neighborhood or even accompany their children to school. They see the effects of ICE arrests on their friends and families, as well as the community as a whole.


Empowering Immigrants through English Language Classes

Despite this chaotic environment, we feel more strongly than ever that now is the time to engage adult learners in English classes. Only through the confidence gained in the classroom can these adults feel empowered to protect themselves and their families. 

One of the core tenets of the work of Catholic Charities Community Services is to welcome immigrants and refugees and help them integrate into their new communities. Recently, in light of the uncertain climate we live in, we have developed ESOL programming to meet the needs of those who are unable or unwilling to leave their neighborhoods. Many of the learners we encounter have had limited access to formal education and have found the more stringent requirements of traditional programs prohibitive; unstable work schedules and family responsibilities provide barriers to enrollment.  In addition, they may not yet have the confidence or tools to succeed in a traditional education setting.


Bringing Class Rooms to Local Schools

In early January 2018, Catholic Charities began an ESOL and Citizenship class in Washington Heights designed to engage community members from all levels and backgrounds. Through close collaboration with the Alianza division, a need for ESOL classes and citizenship preparation was identified and classes were scheduled on Saturdays when working adults are likely to be available and children’s programming is held. 

Our flexible, open-enrollment model promotes continued engagement for adult learners by encouraging them to attend as many classes as possible, while recognizing that adults have many other responsibilities and therefore may miss class from time to time. The location of the program—the local school—is a familiar, safe space for residents. In addition, the conversational class structure and learner-centered approach to ESOL instruction enables the instructor to respond to student needs and incorporate meaningful and relevant content. In the most recent lesson, learners practiced their small talk skills, an important everyday task they requested that is also pertinent to the naturalization interview.

By participating in this program, adult learners gain the English language skills and confidence that is fundamental to engaging safely and effectively with their community and their city.

Immigration specialist Elaine Roberts joins fellow Catholic Charities NY staff as regular contributors to the leading Spanish newspaper, El Diario.

Read Elaine’s  editorial in Spanish