Community colleges offer more than language training for ESL learners

For non-native speakers, learning English represents just a part of acclimating to American culture. Community colleges are creating developmental tracks, services and on-campus groups to better serve English as second language students and community members.

Anne Arundel Community College reaches prospective non-English speaking students with traditional methods such as registration fairs and flyers. In a new approach, the Maryland college now promotes its ESL courses and adult services jointly, as they often appeal to the same demographic, says John Dayton, manager of Anne Arundel’s ESL programs.

The two get marketed together at community agencies, on its Facebook page and in radio ads.

Getting faculty involved

A culture of inclusion and empowerment for all students increases the chances faculty will support a school’s ESL population:

  • Anne Arundel employs several ESL faculty—especially in the STEM fields—who serve as role models and empathetic listeners for students. This mission extends to the curriculum, in the form of the college’s ESL teaching certificate.
  • Borough of Manhattan Community College hosts a workshop series for faculty on how to better support their ESL students, says Katherine Figueroa, the academic literacy department chair.

Anne Arundel offers two ESL tracks:

1. English Basic Skills—a free, grant-funded program—goes beyond reading and writing to train students in conversational English and how to function socially in the community.

2. The English for Academic Purposes track charges for non-credit classes that prepare students to take for-credit, college-level courses.

It is particularly important to identify non-native speaking students before they enroll in credit-bearing courses, as they can no longer take developmental classes after that, says Dayton. Integrating ESL students into the campus community can go well beyond the syllabus.

Developmental reading students at Borough of Manhattan Community College read to children in the school’s day care, for example. Anne Arundel’s ESL department intends to strengthen its relationship with the school’s International Student Group.

“We hope to bridge cultural gaps, and help students realize there are peers to relate to, though they may face different challenges,” says Dayton.

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