Spotlight on LCMC’s ESL Classroom Program

October 8th, 2018

LCMC’s ESL Classroom program might be less familiar to the vast majority of LCMC’s volunteers, as it relies heavily on our TESOL-certified teaching staff. However, it serves almost 1,100 adult learners from over 100 different countries each year. Volunteers may recognize Ahu Moser, our Assistant Director of Programs, if they have volunteered to help at testing or registration days in the past, and they might recognize Rishan Habte, who handles those big days now, from her time in the Tutoring Program. While Ahu and Rishan make up the primary staff of the Classroom Program, they are supported by our Data Analyst, Nina Pashkina, our Director of Community Impact Denise Hill, and Fidel Velez, who now is our Community Resource Manager.
Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, LCMC held classes at various academic levels, over 10 class sites from Germantown all the way to Briggs-Chaney, at community centers, libraries, and public school buildings. This year, LCMC will even be offering classes at churches and at our county’s Headstart Program headquarters, in order to serve parents whose children are receiving preschool instruction.

Ahu is in charge of running the whole show, from day to day operations of the program, including securing space for the classrooms, managing professional development to the classroom teachers, sitting in on classes for observations, and writing grant applications to secure funding for a program that serves approximately 1,100 learners. She has been with LCMC for over 5 years and has seen quite a bit of evolution within the program.

One of the most important things Ahu notes about LCMC’s ESL Classroom program, as opposed to other available adult ESL programs in the region, is that it is not a traditionally academic one. “We try to incorporate a Civics component; how can we be good citizens? How can they contribute to society, how can they volunteer in their communities?”

Rishan, who came to LCMC from Montgomery College, agreed and pointed out that LCMC also stands out because of how it relies on data not only to track our current students, but to keep records of our students who come back to us, since so many of them have life circumstances that interrupt learning. “Sometimes we have students that are in our database for several years and we use [data] to track what they’ve learned and the skills that they’ve gained.”

Maintaining that data is no small feat. That’s where LCMC’s Data Analyst, Nina Pashkina comes in. Nina gathers data from learner enrollment forms, attendance sheets, and student goal sheets, and compiles all of it into a report that shows the program’s progress and its areas for improvement. This is important not only for providing to the US Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR), from which much of the Classroom program’s funding comes, but for finding patterns and trends that inform the staff in decisions they must make about programming, such as what languages to translate flyers into, or where certain immigrant populations are more prevalent, so that we can adjust our programming to be more culturally sensitive and more effective.

Most recently, this close look at data required a change to our processes that brought in our Outreach Team. When Nina presented Ahu and Rishan with a report that showed a drop off in class attendance, Ahu and Rishan engaged the classroom teachers to require them to have one-on-one sitdowns with each learner to discuss their goals for the class, and to deepen the bond between them and their learners. Ahu and Rishan also worked with the Community Outreach team, Fidel and Denise, to develop strategies for finding new sites like Good Shepherd Church in the Hillandale area, that had large numbers of potential learners who needed us.

Though funded by the state and county to hire certified teachers, the Classroom program also utilizes volunteers to help increase student retention. “We have several students who have stronger reading and writing skills, but they want more opportunities to speak. So we have tried to introduce more opportunities for that, like Speaking Buddies, someone who can spend 15 minutes with them on the phone to practice their conversational English.” Conversely, for students who have stronger speaking and listening skills, “we’re looking for Email Buddies,” like volunteer pen pals.
Ahu encourages anyone interested in volunteering to contact her at (301) 610-0030 ext. 204 or ahu@literacycouncilmcmd.org. The team is also looking for anyone who has an interest or expertise in a specific topic that can help students in their daily lives in America, like computer skills, the American justice system and legal process, or even health information like why it’s important to get a flu shot.

LCMC’s tagline has long been “Building Skills for Life,” and as we continue to expand our vision to not just boost literacy in the traditional sense of the word but to reduce the poverty gap through training and education, we are proud of the expansive, ambitious, and effective work of the Classroom Program.