Citizenship, conversations, careers - ESL students reach goals one word at a time

Student Lizmarie Rodriguez has a goal – to pass the physical therapy exam in English so she can work in health care as she did in her native Puerto Rico.

To reach her dream, the mother of three also signed up for free ESL classes.

“I'm learning a lot of things, the basic(s) of English. I really need it,” said Rodriguez. “I want to know what happens around me. I want to feel secure when I talk to (the) teacher of my kids. I want to find a job.”

Lorena Duran, of Bacliff, has a different goal – when she came to COM she didn’t speak a word of English.

“When I come here I understand nothing, and now I understand not all but some words,” said Duran. “I want to learn English because I want to communicate with another person when I go to the store.”

Basic level ESL instructor Sally Davila is teaching both students in her basic ESL class. Teaching for 11 years, she relates to students as she grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, learning English at school. She guides students in practical language skills such as writing a check, making and receiving phone calls, and visiting stores.

“Students are from all countries, Russia, China, Vietnam,” said Davila. “We’ve had plays and presentations. We practiced reading a recipe book and writing recipes. They wanted a potluck, which we had this week. We get the best cooks.”

Meeting each student where he or she is, Davila instructs them to write their goals for the class – such as getting a job, furthering their education or earning citizenship. She saves each and reviews it with the student at the end of the eight-week session.

Classes meet Monday through Thursday, and students may select morning or evening classes. Optional free tutoring is available on Friday.

Teaching practical skills – directions, ordering and conversational English – Davila guides students from those with no skills to those struggling with correct verb tense.

"There’s so much reward,” said Davila. “I tell them all the time I’m only here because I love you. I see some (students) in the street from years ago calling, ‘Teacher, teacher.’ They’re appreciative.”

Incoming students take an oral test and a written test to establish their baseline skill level. The program aims to have each student progress at least one level.

“All teachers are evaluated at the end of each session,” said Elida Matthews, COM Adult Education Program Coordinator. “Sally achieves the highest ranking on teacher performance majority of the time. In addition, evaluations by her students reflect her rapport and commitment to them. Students don't want to leave her.”

After completing the course and testing to demonstrate their progress, students may move to the intermediate/advanced level class or continue in the basic level. Last year, about 400 completed ESL classes.

“Words cannot express the joy it is to teach English to these students. It is priceless,” said Davila. “Many have gone on to take their GED classes and have graduated. Some have entered college. One of the best rewards for me as a teacher is seeing them receive their citizenship.”

Classes are funded by the Texas Workforce Commission and are free to students. There are two eight-week sessions in fall and spring. Open enrollment is held each semester at locations throughout Galveston County.

For more information, visit www.com.edu/adulted or call 409-933-8294.

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