Learning English as a New Language through educational classes
The students await instructions from their teacher, some speaking in their native tongue. A younger child sits next to two students ready to help translate.
“Working with immigrants and refugees — it always offers a wealth of conversation and just tremendous insight into another person’s life no matter what age they are,” said teacher Emily Bradley.
Through a partnership between the Kenmore Tonawanda School District and Erie Community College, English as a New Language classes are being offered three nights a week, at 540 Parkhurst Blvd.
The free classes, which are held on a rotating basis and run year-round, take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Some of the countries that are represented are Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Burma, Kosovo, Ukraine and South Sudan.
The program, which began in January, is run through the Adult Continuing Education and Community Education Department, directed by Nancy Berger. Bradley teaches the class on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Her initial interest in ENL was inspired by the diverse community that makes up the City of Buffalo.
Bradley currently teaches in the Maryvale Union Free School District, and was excited to teach adults in the English as a New Language classes.
“I think they offer such a wealth of knowledge and background that can really thrive in the classroom,” she said.
Due to the wide range of needs and concentration for the students, a variety of activities are facilitated in the classroom.
According to Bradley, students attend classes to get ready for their citizenship; to learn basic English; or to better prepare for college or the job market in learning how to converse, read or write.
On Wednesdays, her class focuses on citizenship. Bradley says she balances work with U.S. history and politics so that students are prepared to answer interview questions.
Then on Thursdays, students work on reading and writing. Bradley says this can be a challenge because there are students with varying abilities.
“But, mostly the focus is engaging students with the text or newspaper article or a very simple reading and then trying to develop their writing based on that.”
Students range from 18 years old to those in their early retirement and 70s.
Bradley noted that she has seen growth especially with some students who came to the class with little English. She remembers working with letters and sounds on the first day of class and recently witnessed the students reading confidently and more fluently.
“That was a proud moment for me, to see where they started and sort of where they are in just two months.”
According to Bradley, there are about 30 to 35 registered students, and a typical class size is anywhere between 10 and 20 students.
“We usually get a consistent group of about 10 to 15 students who come pretty regularly.”
With adults, Bradley believes there is a common ground or an understanding of adult responsibilities, and there’s a little more sympathy toward what they have to go through to have a successful life in the U.S.
“And how hard they [the students] are working for that,” she said.
The conversations with the adults makes Bradley’s job enjoyable.
“A lot of the curriculum and what I do in the classroom is based on what they want to learn. It’s based on what they need to learn,” she said. “It’s embedded with their interests, and that is ultimately what’s going to make the class interactive and make the class engaging.”
Through common interests and goals, Bradley added that she’s able to build personal connections with the students that can be like a friendship.
She noted that the program is a community effort and they’re lucky to have volunteers from the Jericho Road Project that help make the program thrive along with participation from the middle school.
“Because of all these different people and different parts of the community, it’s really what’s going to make this program succeed. And a lot of what I do is because of them.”
Greg Conley, who is currently an instructional technology coach in the Buffalo Public Schools, teaches the class on Tuesdays. He is also certified as a teacher in English as a Second Language.
Since he works with children during the day, he thought it would be interesting to work with adults in a different capacity.
Conley teaches the students both academic and everyday vocabulary, in addition to grammar and phonics.
“We do a lot of different group activities to help the participants in speaking, listening, reading and writing,” he said, adding that he uses their home language at times to help with tutoring.
Conley noted that he is happy to help recently arrived immigrants learn how to navigate their new life in the U.S.
“You’re giving recent immigrants a language, and it’s a language we all share in this country,” Conley said, adding that he gets to learn about the students’ experiences and languages as well, which complements the learning process.