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Opening doors one word at a time

Local ESL program helps advance careers, confidence

Created date

July 23rd, 2013

In 2002, Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., established an English as a Second Language (ESL) program to tutor staff members wishing to strengthen their English language skills. I knew almost immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of, says community member Hazel Poole, who has coordinated the group since its inception. Enlisting the help of resident volunteer teachers, Hazel got right to work. Over the past 11 years, more than 280 employees have attended and completed the ESL courses, and more than 50 community members have volunteered their time as tutors. The success the students experience as a result of their hard work really keeps you going, says Hazel. Sharpening their English language skills helps the employees get along better in their current jobs and often leads to promotions.

Unique learning environment

Currently, 13 Greenspring residents dedicate their time to tutoring students every Tuesday and Thursday. The program is set up as individual ten-week sessions, says Hazel. We interview the students and organize them by their appropriate skill level in an effort to ensure the best learning environment. We also try to keep the groups small to give the students both the individual time and attention they need, as well as ample opportunity to move forward. The ten-week sessions are offered three times a year with almost all of the students continuing their studies from one session to the next. Sixteen students completed the most recent session.

Committed teachers

The Greenspring ESL program s overwhelming success results from the dedicated students and teachers. Time and again, the teachers share with me how much they enjoy teaching and their belief that they re getting as much back from the classes as the students, says Hazel. Community member Frances Huenemann began teaching the Greenspring students when the program began in 2002. Before moving to Virginia, I worked as a teacher s aide at a middle school in New Jersey, she says. There was a very large Korean population at the school, and an ESL program was established to help the students learn English. I worked with children on a one-on-one basis and really enjoyed the experience. Tutoring at Greenspring allows me, once again, to help people in a way that directly impacts their lives. I enjoy getting to know and interacting with the employees on a different level.

Impacting lives

A majority of Greenspring s ESL students speak Spanish, yet they all come from varied backgrounds and cultures. Current students come from the Philippines, Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Ghana. Many of the students have really given up a lot in their home countries to come to the U.S. and make a better life for themselves and their families, says Hazel. The priority of all our classes is to teach the students to speak English, she says. This is especially true for students from the housekeeping staff because of the many opportunities they have to communicate with the people who live here. We encourage all of the students to practice on the job with coworkers or at home with their children. One day, I overheard two Spanish-speaking employees I had tutored speaking to each other in English, says Frances. I was so excited. I ran right over and told them how pleased I was with their effort. I have been to many different countries, and I know how easy it is to stick with what you know. Seeing the employees make the extra effort was heartwarming. One of our students came to our ESL program while working in housekeeping, says Hazel. She shared with her tutor her dream to become a nurse. Through her own hard work and dedication she has continually been promoted and is now a clinical worker and is completing her nursing studies. Another student shared with me that she could now understand her doctor s advice and help her children with their homework.

Award-winning effort

Hazel recently received a 2013 Fairfax County Volunteer Service Award as recognition for the difference the Greenspring ESL program is making in the lives of its students. I was shocked when I learned I had won, says Hazel. None of us do what we do to be honored or recognized. The real joy is in helping people make better lives for themselves. I accept the award in honor of the countless hours and hard work put in by the ESL tutors and students. What we are doing is something everyone involved should feel proud of.