Communication Based on Community

by Becca Levy ‘16 and Adam Gumushian ‘15
April 15, 2015

Adam and Becca are co-community fellows for Olneyville ESOL, an English-language program at William D’Abate Elementary School in Olneyville. The program offers English language and literacy classes to (mostly Latino) immigrant adults living in the school’s surrounding neighborhoods. Both of us have worked in ESOL for multiple years, as teaching assistants, lead teachers, and now in multiple roles in support of the program’s volunteers and learners. We teach with flexible syllabi in order to tailor the classes to our learner’s specific needs and strengths.

“Thank you for being kind, thank you for teaching… thank you so much.”  --Rosario, Level 3 learner.

The room is quiet, learners and teachers alike clump around Rosario in a rugged semi-circle. The latin dance music is paused, forkfuls of tamales, rice and beans, and tres leche cake momentarily ignored. The end-of-semester feedback survey could wait. The howling December wind outside the thin windows of the school’s library hushed momentarily to catch the last of Rosario’s moving words.

At the end of each semester of English classes, all volunteer teachers (Brown students) and learners (adults from the community) join together for a potluck dinner, awarding of certificates, and one last joyous opportunity to celebrate and reflect on one another’s hard work.

In this casual collective gathering, we witness the essence of learner progress as evidenced through happy conversation and celebration. Months prior, we were rushing to register our influx of new adults; now we are breaking bread and being welcomed into a loving family. The adults ranged from having little experience in the program to having spent as many semesters as we have within the ESOL program; together we have established a community. Our mission to help our learners feel confident in their English language abilities is evident during this particular moment in the camaraderie that fills the room, demonstrated by all participants enjoying the party while using their growing English skills. Building relationships as part of our ongoing attentive teaching efforts is all part of the work that helps us accomplish the program’s goals.

People involved in education always say that teachers learn more from their students than students learn from them. Of course, we hope that volunteers are making a difference for learners in gaining confidence about their English skills, but our biggest hope for the program is that we can remain grounded and grateful enough to realize how much this small Olneyville ESOL community teaches us about the lives and motivations of our fellow Providence residents.