On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, a group of moms and dads – Fabiola, Karina, Marta, Olga, Selma, Bijoux, and Samba – gather to learn English in the Academy of World Languages (AWL) school library in Cincinnati. They are parents of AWL students, who are learning English themselves through their school curriculum. The parents at the English class on Tuesday and Wednesday nights come from diverse countries around the globe: Mexico, Guatemala, Mauritania, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali.
The parents’ journeys to Cincinnati are as diverse as their home countries, and many of them were very difficult journeys. One parent had to ride in the trunk of a car to come here. We wanted to understand what they like (and perhaps what they do not like) about Cincinnati as compared to their home countries and why they wanted to learn English.
What do you like about Cincinnati?
“I grew up in a village. Before coming to Cincinnati, I lived 4 years in New York in the Bronx. When I lived there, I worked at a car wash 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 3 dollars an hour. I did this for 7 months and almost returned to my home country. But, a friend in Cincinnati told me to move here instead. The first year I lived here, one day I came home and everything was gone [stolen].In Cincinnati, I do not have a problem with the community. My job, my family, my children are everything to me.”
“I like Cincinnati. In my country it is very different. It is more safe here, and I feel better. I miss my family.”
“I like it here because in Guatemala there are no jobs and too much violence.”
“I like it both here in Cincinnati and in Africa, where I am from.”
“I like Cincinnati because of the work, jobs, and school. There was too much fighting where I came from. My father died; he was shot because he was a political figure.”
Why do you want to learn English?
“To talk with my kids and help them with their homework. Maybe next year, after my youngest goes to preschool, I want to find a job.”
“To help my kids with homework but also to speak English at the clinic if my kids become sick.”
“For me, I work at McDonald’s, and I would like to improve my English skills for my job.”
“I want to learn English for my family.”
“I would like to speak English, write good English, and go to college next year in medicine or pharmaceuticals.”
“I have exposure to English from work. I understand 80% of English, but to write a sentence is challenging. Many times I can listen, but it is difficult to write.”
How does this program differ from other ESL classes?
AWL offers two parent English classes, one for beginners and one for public speaking. Sheryl Rajbhandari teaches the beginners class. We asked Sheryl to explain how this program differs from her other ESL classes.
“This is such a small group that I’m able to quickly form a relationship and bond with each parent. While almost all of them are from different countries, the bond I have with them allows me to work with them as individuals in this small group and celebrate each person’s accomplishments.”
As a teacher, what have you gained from this experience?
Sheryl has become a resource for parents on where to go for additional support they may need such as employment assistance, food, clothing and affordable housing options. What has Sheryl gained from this experience?
“An awareness of what an amazing, passionate and dedicated staff they have on board at AWL, from the people at the front office, the teachers and administrators, and the staff from Beech Acres. It has made me even more aware that people usually do not leave their homeland because they want to but because they are forced to for the safety of themselves or their families.”
About the parent ESL classes
The parents overwhelmingly voted to start the English classes when AWL polled parents on how they could better serve them. Liz Gottmer from Beech Acres who works with AWL on supporting families and Jill Smith who is the Resource Coordinator at AWL coordinated the English classes.
“My favorite thing about the classes is not only the learning but the building of community among the parents through carpooling, celebrating at the end of the season with a potluck of many different ethnic foods, developing friendships, and enjoying the classes,” said Liz. In some cases, the English classes have led to parents going on to further their education.
AWL’s parent English classes are made possible by a grant through the Schiff Foundation and coordination of Beech Acres Parenting Center. AWL is a school for both children learning English as a second language and children learning a foreign language. It is one of Cincinnati Public School’s “magnet schools” for this specialized reason. Families of AWL come from around the world to Cincinnati for different reasons, and many of these families come as refugees and immigrants.