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Catholic Multicultural Center launches updated English as a Second Language Program Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Laura Green, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 03, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
cmc second language class
Students have benefitted from English as a Second Language classes held at the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- “I have lived here [in the U.S.] for 12 years. I come to the CMC to learn English because I need it for my job . . . for everything, even when you go to the store. And, to know how to speak two languages is very important.”

Gregorio is a typical student coming to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC).

Overcoming barriers

He and his classmates face challenges that native English-speakers seldom think about: How can I succeed at my job if I can barely communicate with my boss? How can I help my child with his or her homework in a language unfamiliar to me? What would happen in an emergency if I can’t call for help and be understood?

When Gregorio and his classmates in ESL at the CMC explained their motivation for coming to class to learn English, their goals were focused on overcoming barriers in their day-to-day lives.

Students said they want to learn English to be able to communicate at places like the store or hospital, to be able to do and succeed in business here in the U.S., to communicate with their child’s teacher and understand their report cards, and to simply be able to better understand people wherever they go.

In some cases, not knowing English has caused real hardship. “You can be abused in your job [if you don’t speak much English],” one student said, while others murmured in agreement, sharing stories of abuse and manipulation from their boss or co-workers.

Another said that they were yelled at by a store employee while shopping, but they couldn’t understand what they did wrong nor could they explain themselves to the employee in English.

These are a few of countless examples of how having limited English skills makes daily life here in Wisconsin more challenging. On the other hand, knowing English can open the door to so many opportunities and make life easier, according to the students, though the process of learning requires much time and effort.

ESL program updated

The CMC’s ESL program offers a welcoming, low-pressure environment where any non-native speaker is welcome to come and learn or improve their English skills to meet their own personal and professional goals.

Classes are offered at the center Monday through Saturday, taught by volunteer teachers with the help of volunteer classroom assistants. Last fall, the CMC hired its first part-time ESL program coordinator, Stefanie Lohman, to take leadership of the program and make some exciting improvements.

“Our goal is to offer a more predictable and consistent set of courses for students so they know what to expect day to day, from seeing a familiar teacher to working from the same textbook,” Lohman explained.

In the short time since she joined the CMC staff, Lohman has led the program through several major updates. Now, students are assessed when they register so they can be placed in an appropriate class based on their ability. The classes have been divided into levels, creating a clear pathway to progress through which students can advance at their own pace. Each class has a standard set of textbooks to guide teachers and students alike.

Volunteer teacher Mike Maresh, who has taught English at the CMC for over four years, has already seen the positive impact these changes have had on volunteers and students.

According to Maresh, students have benefit from having the same teacher lead their class and also from being with the same consistent peer group from day to day. This consistency allows his students to get to know one another and feel more comfortable in class.

His current students show a deep sense of kindness and respect towards one another and are eager to help each other learn. The students have likewise appreciated the improvements to the program. “Before we had a lot of repetition, but now we get to learn more new things,” one student noted.

Sense of caring, community

Although the class structure looks a lot different under the new format, some things have not changed since the inception of the program over 20 years ago. The CMC motto of “Making a difference, one person at a time” still prevails at the core of the ESL program.

A sense of caring, community, and solidarity continues to make the CMC a special place to learn. Students explained that they like the CMC classes because of the kindness everyone shows to them. The teachers take the time to help them understand concepts they are having trouble with, and they appreciate the patience of the instructors.

“These classes are for the community; it’s easy to come here and learn,” said one student. The classes are completely free, although students may purchase their own workbook to take home.

The CMC offers child care, staffed by volunteers, so that finding child care does not become a barrier.

“I am impressed that people have so much going on in their lives and that they still come to learn, and impressed by all that they have overcome to get to this point,” said teacher Maresh. He added that, “Our students already know two or more languages . . . most Americans only know one.”

Importance of volunteers

Students are all typically very motivated to come and learn, but they would not be able to do so without motivated volunteers who want to come teach them.

Program coordinator Lohman expressed her admiration for the volunteers through which all classes are made possible. “Everyone who is here [to volunteer] to teach wants to be here. They want to help, they want to give back.”

Currently over 20 volunteer teachers and assistant teachers ensure that three levels of classes plus drop-in tutoring can take place each week, Monday through Saturday. Additionally, it takes almost as many volunteers to offer child care every class period.

“We [the CMC] have a more relaxed, homey feel while still providing high quality classes,” said Lohman, summing up what makes the CMC ESL program unique. “There is a strong sense of community, almost a sense of family here, that you can’t get anywhere else.”

If you or someone you know would like to register to take an ESL class, call the CMC at 608-661-3512 or stop by the CMC, 1862 Beld St., during business hours to start the enrollment process.

 
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