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Catholic Charities’ ESL program gets college boost

Oh, if the walls of Newcomb Hall on the Tulane campus could speak! Built in 1918, the historic building has been home to numerous studies and currently houses the school’s language department during the day and Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans’ English as a Second Language program for adults from various countries at night.

In the basement of the building, ESL teachers like Ross Higgins, a Tulane University senior, explain personal pronouns and possessive adjectives with individuals learning English for the first time.

During a recent class, the exercises detailed the relationships of the Simpsons cartoon family. Higgins let students try to answer a few questions alone as he floated around the room. Then, the entire class reviewed the answers.

“I am Bart Simpson,” Higgins told the class, and then examined sentences prompting use of the possessive adjective “my.”

“Marge and Homer are my parents,” he said. “Lisa and Maggie are my sisters.”

Students shouted the correct word in other sentences in regards to how the family members were related to Marge.

“Bart is my son. Lisa is my daughter. Homer is my husband.”

“Good job,” Ross, a Spanish and neuroscience major, said. After a few more examples, Higgins asked, “So these make sense now? Possessive adjectives?” They answered yes.

Simultaneously, upstairs on the fourth floor, tutors work one-on-one with students in the open enrollment tutoring program. Many of these adult learners attend to communicate better with coworkers and bosses, while others desire to help their children in school.

Adult learner Tenzin Dawa, who came to the United States from Tibet in 2012, has been attending Catholic Charities’ ESL classes for the past 1 1/2 years.

“My English is not good, so I came to this class to better my English,” he said, adding how his goal is to strengthen his English language skills with workers in the landscaping business.

"It’s very good,” the 31-year-old said about the classes he attends multiple days a week.

Model program
    Amanda Buberger, assistant director of Academic Community Engagement for Tulane University’s Center for Public Service, says the English as a Second Language collaboration between Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and Tulane University is a model for others to follow.

“It is extraordinary,” Buberger said.

On average, there are 80 Tulane student volunteers who are tutors, instructors and interns every semester. Faculty members also are involved and help Tessa Wheelock, adult education coordinator for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, troubleshoot and develop the ESL program so everyone has a rewarding experience.

While volunteers may first participate to fulfill the service-hour component of their curriculum at Tulane, many return because of what they personally gain by participating.

“It’s the kind of program that students feel committed to because adult learners are making progress, and they build relationships with them,” Buberger said.

Another hallmark of student volunteer learning is its educational value beyond what a Tulane student learning in a Spanish or Latin American studies class.

“They are learning about language acquisition and other cultures,” Buberger said. “They learn about civic responsibility and how to become better tutors and educators. It’s a wonderful program. We are pleased to have a partner like Catholic Charities.”

Tulane student Taylor Scott, 20, began tutoring in her freshman year as part of her required service learning. Now a junior in Latin American Studies, she has advanced to program intern.

“At first, I thought I would do what I have to for my service learner requirement, but then I really liked it,” she said. “The people are so grateful. I got personalized cards from them saying thank you.”

Scott said she has gained insight about herself, especially her level of compassion for others.

“It sparked my interest in Latin American studies,” Scott said. “When you are tutoring students, you talk to them, hear their stories about where they come from, and it’s interesting.”

Catholic Charities does training
Wheelock said tutors get a crash course on the “nuts and bolts” of Catholic Charities and how to teach English as a Second Language using most helpful tips when individuals don’t speak any English.

“We focus our training on what you can do with people who don’t speak any English,” she said. Tulane has a resource tutoring lab and online program available.

Students decide whether to register for classroom teaching or more informal tutoring. Those who need more personal instruction can benefit from one-on-one tutoring. This close attention can, sometimes, pinpoint learning disabilities students might be able to hide in a class or enable students to focus on basics skills they don’t know such as computer use, how to respond to email or even apply for a job online and local colloquialisms such as “Who Dat.”

Since the tutoring program is walk in, it also can fill instructional gaps for students who miss the deadline to register for class instruction. The average age for adult English as a Second Language classes and tutoring is age 25-55.

Motivated student teachers like Higgins – who has applied to the Peace Corps – gain much from leading a class. He’s taught for several semesters and has learned communication and teaching skills.

“It’s the great feeling you get from giving back,” Higgins said. “I felt so rewarded at the end of the summer semester that I kept returning.”

In addition to Tulane University, ESL classes are conducted at several other locations. Call 861-6348.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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