Multicultural Education Programs

Kennedy Park ESL Collaborative

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Kennedy Park ESL Collaborative

This site features the work and collaborative efforts of a Portland-based English as a Second Language class that has been in place since September 2001. The history of the class and the results of the class, stories created and told by class participants are captured for reading and understanding. Profiles of all involved in the collaborative are showcased - - each role, though distinct, has become integral in the overall design of this educational partnering. We involved have seen first hand and offer those who view this site to be privy, even though in a second hand way to the freshness of the collaborative offerings, initiatives, and connections.

This collaborative project was designed to assist Vietnamese and Cambodian female welfare recipients to access English language training as well as assistance to resolving barriers to work. This collaborative involves university-based adult education program, a non-profit social service agency specializing in delivering services to refugees and immigrants, and a state welfare to work program. The idea for the project emerged when Case managers hired to serve the non-English speaking case load of the state’s welfare to work program realized that many of the Vietnamese and Cambodian women, despite having lived in the US for 10 to 15 years still did not speak English well enough to navigate through health care, educational, legal, or social service systems, let alone seek work for themselves. On meeting with individuals from this group it became apparent that many suffered from isolation, depression, medical complaints as well as symptoms stemming from earlier trauma of war and refugee experiences, in addition to their poverty and lack of English literacy. Many of them had long since given up on the idea of taking English classes, saying they had too many headaches and the inability to learn or remember.

Through collaborative meetings between the three agencies, an idea emerged to form an English class geared to the needs of the population, teaching English, addressing post traumatic stress issues, as well as current barriers to learning and self-sufficiency. The curriculum includes journaling, story telling, and daily informal discussions as jumping off points for teaching literacy. Students learn to speak English, and read and write about their own experiences. The class also includes a career exploration component. Guest speakers and field trips round out the curriculum. A mental health case manager assists in the class and is available to help students individually to address personal and family difficulties. Two cross cultural case managers are also available to help students network to access resources such as child care, transportation, health care, volunteer experiences, and work.

In the three years since the class began we have seen significant progress towards both literacy and self-sufficiency. Many previously illiterate women are reading and writing and speaking well enough to access community resources on their own. Several have graduated to a larger community-based Adult Education program. Many who had never worked before now do work. Others have plans to work or open a business in the future. Several have drivers’ licenses. Several have resolved very significant health or family issues.

Recently we have decided to include non-English speaking women from other countries who were experiencing significant barriers to learning. This has enriched the class further as has the involvement of native language facilitators referred to in this work as teacher assistants.