Gavilan College and FIRST 5 partner to offer evening ESL classes in Hollisterby Jan Janes on Apr 14, 2017
On a late spring afternoon at a time many schools empty out, two classrooms on Line Street in Hollister fill with working parents intent on learning English.
ESL instructor Amy Van Gundy prepares flash cards for the adult class as
one of the student's sons supervises.
A partnership between Gavilan College and FIRST 5 offers English as a second language (ESL) classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. The main classroom is filled with chairs and tables for the parents. A colorful hallway leads the way to a second classroom designed as a youth learning center.
Tucked inside the back of the main classroom is a special play area designed for infants and toddlers. The "Children's Kingdom" offers proximity for children not ready to be separated from their parents the entire evening. Cut out windows allow them to peek out to the main instruction area. Child-sized furniture, books, musical instruments and toys are in abundance. Walking inside the Kingdom, even adults reminisce about being small.
A specially constructed area, the Children's Kingdom, is located at the rear
of the adult ESL classroom, allowing children to peek through cut out
windows to check up on their parents, then return to their own play.
Wendy Ortiz, program coordinator, described building the project beginning last fall as a team effort with FIRST 5, the teachers and Dr. Randy Brown, Gavilan College Associate Dean of Community Development and Grants Management. FIRST 5 has a range of activities, play groups and library story time, but this program is the first time it paired youth programs with adult learning.
Learning a new language is challenging
“The Gavilan College Noncredit program has ESL, Citizenship, Career Preparation, and High School Equivalency classes in locations throughout San Benito County”, reported Dr. Randy Brown, the Associate Dean in charge of the division. “This class is the only one with child care available to students.”
Working parents know improving their language skills will lead to better opportunities. But they also have challenges with available class times. After getting off work at the end of the day, decisions about dinner, travel and children's homework collide and can impede the ability to start. This new Gavilan/FIRST 5 program, free to participants, offers a hearty snack for both adults and children, provides a quiet learning environment for the parents and a separate classroom and supervised activities for their children.
"For the parents, learning a new language can be exhausting, and this new program is devised to decrease their stress," said Ortiz.
The important work of play
Two long-time Hollister School District teachers plan activities to engage the children while their parents learn English. Each month focuses on a new theme such as snow, colors or spring gardens, with curriculum reinforcing the concepts. Activities include art, music, puzzles, games and books.
Children gravitate to toys they can build after leaving their parents in
the main classroom.
As they arrive, kids peel off from their parents. Outside, they race to climb playground structures, play on the grass and engage in water play. Later they move inside, where older children finish their homework supported by the teachers. Children aged two to ten currently attend the program. Playing in a new group with a diverse age range can enhance their social development.
According to Ortiz, the parents appreciate the class, where they can focus and know their kids are engaged and cared for. "And the kids like coming!" she said. Even the youngest child, who initially played in the special Kingdom room, showed up ready to leave his mom without hesitation. Teachers slow their welcome, creating a bridge for the child to separate.
A teacher helps one student with pencil grip positioning as she learns a
new letter of the alphabet.
The open-enrollment pilot project continues through the end of May, and there are already plans to offer a full-year program starting in August 2017. "We are still working to get the word out, the program is all free to the families," said Ortiz, herself a Gavilan alumna.