Multicultural Education Programs

Kennedy Park ESL Collaborative : Future

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Kennedy Park ESL Collaborative : Future

When we started the collaborative we were hoping to address the isolation, trauma history, lack of English language skills and welfare dependence of a certain group of Vietnamese and Cambodian women. We hoped that with the help of this small specially designed English class and a lot individual attention from case managers, some of the women would be able to overcome barriers to interdependence and self reliance within the English speaking community. In the beginning there was a great deal of resistance; the women did not want to come to the class. It was a forced requirement of the ASPIRE program for many. Why should they want to come? Who were we? Yet, from the beginning it has been apparent that there was something valuable going on here for everyone. It is a situation in which the students learn but so do the teachers and case managers, so it is a really dynamic environment. The students learn English and learn to navigate through various problems they have with the English speaking world. In turn, we: the teacher, teacher aides and case managers are coming to know and understand individuals whose perspectives alter our own concepts of ourselves, this English speaking culture, and the world. Although some students have dropped out, many more stayed of their own accord and became committed students. Over time more and more students are asking to join the class.At this point, the class really has taken on a life of its own. We now have a waiting list of women who want to join. Students who resisted joining during the first few years now attend diligently and enthusiastically. We have included women from other cultures: Congo , Sudan , Somalia , Iran . There is a great deal of interest in learning about each others cultures, sharing information and helping those who are at different levels in learning English. Over time, this class has had so many successes small and large amongst the students: they are learning to speak or read or write well enough to make appointments a the medical center or with a teacher for the first time; learning to drive; standing up for oneself in a situation of conflict; many have graduated to the larger English classes at Portland Adult Education; others have found work for the first time, or have re-entered the work force. Staff are learning and changing as well. We are learning about cultures and individuals, and most importantly we are learning about what is possible to happen when a project is truly collaborative between agencies, individuals, and the individuals the agencies are trying to reach.

We hope this class will continue for a long time into the future, for as long as it is needed, and we also hope that it will inspire other efforts along the same lines.