PCL Program Coordinator Michelle Novello and Latino Program Coodinator Carolina Briones established a little holiday tradition a few years ago when they invited PCL’s volunteer ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) teachers to a December dinner. The tradition stuck and the current group of volunteers gathered last week at South Providence Library, to meet, eat and share experiences.
PCL’s ESOL volunteers teach twice-weekly classes to students who study English at beginner, intermediate, and, occasionally, advanced level. All listen to their students and shape the content of their classes largely based on student need. Ricky, a mechanical engineer by profession, says that his students want to master basic tasks, such as making a telephone call, booking appointments and filling in forms. Visiting the doctor is also high on their lists, particularly how to describe body parts and how to say “this hurts here” and “what do I take for this?” Other students want to improve their English so that they can get better jobs, go to college or apply for U.S. citizenship. Others simply want to communicate more effectively and to be less dependent on younger family members who are already fluent in English.
Some volunteers have taught English learners previously, in domestic or overseas settings. Deb, for example, started teaching English in South Providence in 1990, while Pam taught an ESOL program to refugees during the Bosnian War. Others are new to ESOL teaching.
Two things are striking about PCL’s volunteer ESOL teachers. The first is their high level of education, with three volunteers currently working on PhD dissertations. This is no accident, as the ESOL program expanded this year thanks, in part, to a newly-created 5-year partnership with Brown University through the Dept of American Studies. The second is the generous nature of the teachers; many are conscious of the rewards they have reaped through their educational and life experiences and they teach ESOL as a way to “give back” to the community.
Michelle thanked the volunteers for their service and for coming to the dinner. “We can’t do this without you,” she explained. One volunteer, Nicole, replied, “This program has changed my life. It’s given me a lot of direction and a lot to believe in.” So much so that Nicole has decided to sign up for the Peace Corps and she will be heading for Ecuador in January.