Lee TESOL department reaches further out into the community

Kaley Schwab, News Editor and Molly Braswell, Staff Writer

A newly awarded grant by the Athens Federal Foundation has allowed Lee University's Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages department to expand its classes and allow for more opportunities to teach nonnative speakers in the Cleveland community.

The Athens Federal Foundation is a locally based foundation committed to funding and supporting charitable causes in Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk counties.

According to the foundation their mission is to, 'support and fund community development via affordable housing, job training and programs that assist the economically disadvantaged.'

Christopher Blake, assistant professor of linguistics and TESOL and director of the English Language Center, said they were able to submit a proposal for a grant [to the Athens Federal Foundation] and were awarded the grant to open a class during daytime hours.

Lee's TESOL department has an established evening class, which utilizes faculty and students from the department in order to teach nonnative speakers English for free. The class meets once a week on Thursdays for two hours over the course of eight weeks in the fall and spring.

Although this class has been able to reach many in the community, this grant to open a class during daytime hours will help meet the needs of students who are unable to come to the night class.

Blake said some students have not been able to attend the class due to lack of childcare and differing work schedules.

Along with the grant, a new teacher for the class has also been added to Lee's TESOL program.

Cathy Broersma, wife of newly hired Associate Professor of TESOL and Linguistics David Broersma, and who has a masters in TESOL, was hired to teach the newly created daytime class with students who are currently majoring or minoring in TESOL.

'[Broersma] is working with a couple of our students to teach the course, and she is designing the curriculum right now in order to meet the needs of the students who will be attending the morning class,' Blake said.

The class will most likely take place on either Monday and Wednesdays, or Tuesday's and Thursday's and will meet twice a week for 10 weeks.

The class, which typically is for those who may not be able to afford to pay for classes on their own, will be held at Blythe-Bower Elementary School in Cleveland in order to provide a central location for students. Many of the parents, who are often non-native English speakers, would be able to drop their children off at school and then come back to attend the morning class.

The class will cater to a wide variety of students with varying levels of fluency in English. When they begin taking the class they are divided into groups based upon their differing needs from novice, intermediate and advanced.

Students come from a wide variety of nationalities, including Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, Russia and Iran.

The program aims to teach students applicable skills in order to be better equipped to find jobs, go to college, or simply interact with others using their newly acquired English speaking skills.

'Teaching to speakers of other languages isn't always easy. There is a language barrier that is very difficult to overcome at times, but when a student gets a new concept and starts applying it to their use of the language, it is such a wonderful feeling,' TESOL Major Emily Schulte said.

Language can be a major hurdle non-native speakers face when moving to the United States. Blake recounted a story about a student from Cuba who spoke about what the class has meant to him.

'There's a Cuban fellow who's in the Thursday evening [class] who did not speak English very well at all and in just a very short period of time already, his English is improving and he said to me, 'thank you so much, this class has given me my English back,'' Blake said.

These interactions with the community are allowing Lee students and faculty to live out the mission the university has made as its goal for so many years.

Under service learning on the Lee Website, it said Lee is committed to 'prepare students for Christian citizenship through reflective community interactions that encourage a commitment to the ideals of service, benevolence, civic virtue and social justice.'

Senior TESOL minor Christian Brewer helps teach the Thursday night class.

'It's enriching to be able to teach English to members of the community because it is a way to welcome the stranger and to be a good Christian host to those seeking a place to call home,' Brewer said. 'English provides opportunities for people that they would not have in the United States while knowing only their first language.'

The classes that Lee offers allow for students and faculty of the TESOL department to be a direct extension of Lee values into the Cleveland community and beyond the brick and mortar of the Lee campus.

'We cannot overlook the importance in the bible showing hospitality to the stranger it is our obligation to meet the needs of the stranger,' Blake said. 'A huge part of [the class] is to follow in the footsteps of Christ. We [as a university] often go overseas so much with global perspectives and cross-cultural trips, but here [in the Cleveland community] you have your cross-cultural experience right here in Cleveland working with these students.'

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