When a student doesn’t understand a subject in class, it can feel as though the teacher is speaking a different language. But for some students served by Communities In Schools, the teacher really is speaking another language. Born outside of the United States or to parents who do not speak English as a native language, these students struggle to both stay on top of their classwork and understand the language it’s being presented in.
Communities In Schools works within the school system to make sure students receive services to help them learn English, such as tutors and after-school programs. We also reach out to parents who are not fluent in English so they know what local resources are available to their families, such as food and health care.
Across the country, Communities In Schools affiliates have bilingual site coordinators and volunteers. Communities In Schools of Lakewood, Wash., takes it to the next level and offers an ESL (English as a Second Language) program to parents at a local elementary school. About 40 percent of the students attending Tillicum Elementary come from Spanish-speaking households. By partnering with a local community college, up to 50 adults at a time have participated in the year-round ESL program. Communities In Schools also provides childcare so that parents with young children can attend the class.
“The most important thing about this program is that it builds confidence in parents and enables them to communicate with their students’ teachers, ask questions and talk to the principal,” said Leah Livingston, a Communities In Schools of Lakewood site coordinator at Tillicum Elementary. “And now that they can speak English, they can communicate with their English-speaking neighbors and participate in the community. They don’t feel culturally closed off.”
One of the things about the program that Livingston is most proud of is its ability to help families overcome major obstacles. A few years ago, a large group of Spanish-speaking families with parents in the ESL class were at risk of being evicted from their homes. Because the notices from the community were available only in English, they were unaware that their homes were violating local building regulations. More than 20 Tillicum Elementary students and their families were going to be homeless if they didn’t make the needed repairs.
“What they needed was face-to-face interaction,” Livingston said. “The parents were willing to make the changes but needed help figuring out exactly what had to be done.”
While looking for a solution to the problem, Livingston found out that a local Communities In Schools mentor was actually a code enforcement officer. She invited him to come speak to the ESL class, and he was able to explain in person the situation and help them find the resources they needed to repair their homes.
“Because of this class, these people are still living in their homes,” Livingston said. “The class has really given us an opportunity to flex the best muscles of Communities In Schools and see it function at its best.”
Learn more about how students and their families benefit from Communities In Schools of Lakewood and Pierce College’s ESL class in this fantastic video they made.