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Retired teachers return to classroom

Highland Springs gears up for second semester of ESL

Created date

August 24th, 2010

Ricardo Cortes is the sort of employee any company would be glad to have hardworking, reliable, and courteous. The Mexico City native has been a part of the Highland Springs maintenance team since the community opened in September 2006. He loves everything about his job, except for one thing: He wants to get to know the residents better but doesn t know how. Now, thanks to a new initiative implemented by residents, Cortes is keen to chat with anyone he passes in the hallway.

English 101

Highland Springs English as a Second Language (ESL) program is the brainchild of Rose Jacobson, a retired business administrator who moved to the community in 2007. Sometimes we don t realize that it s difficult for people to do the simple things, like writing a check, if they don t have a good command of English, says Jacobson. She shared her idea with Tina Ricciardi, director of human resources atHighland Springs, and the two set out to recruit employees and residents. The first semester, April 12 through June 21, saw 9 employees and 16 residents participating in the program. We had enough resident volunteers to offer one-on-one tutoring, with back-up teachers to ensure continuity in case a conflict came up, says Jacobson, who tracked down retired teachers to help her get the program off the ground. With borrowed materials, language learning began in earnest. Each teacher and student met twice a week for an hour at a time during the employee s lunch break or before or after work. The employees were at different levels some needed help with conversation; others were more focused on writing. It was so neat to see a resident and employee sitting in one of the common spaces around the community with their heads together going through the workbooks and just having a really good time, says Ricciardi.

Giving back

Retired teacher Judy O Connor spent 20 years teaching English and composition to junior high and high school students in Pittsford, N.Y., before moving toHighland Springsin 2009. She tutored Esther Cervino, who works in the community s beauty salon. Esther speaks English very well, but she was interested in improving her vocabulary and writing skills, says O Connor. So I went online and looked at materials and spoke with friends who taught ESL. I gathered information wherever I could. O Connor, like many of the other teachers, was motivated by a desire to make a difference. I m thrilled to be involved in something like this, she says. You can see that it s going to change the employees lives in so many ways. It improves their skills and gives them a chance to advance in the community. Those opportunities were not lost on the employees. At the end-of-semester celebration lunch, after the teachers presented the students with completion certificates, the employees had a chance to say thank you. It amazed me they each told the group, in English, what the experience meant to them. That took great courage, says O Connor.

Looking ahead

With the summer behind them, employees and residents are gearing up for the second semester, which begins on September 6. It s going to be bigger and better, says Jacobson. The employees who participated in the first semester are coming back for round two to get an even stronger grasp on the language, and two additional employees are joining the program. It s exciting to witness the change in our employees, says Ricciardi. Both personally and professionally, the ESL program is making a difference.