Editor’s Note: Lexie is a proud AmeriCorps VISTA alum with a master’s degree in Communications & New Media Marketing from Southern New Hampshire University. She currently works as the Volunteer & Community Engagement Coordinator for NEHDA and the Syracuse Northeast Community Center. As part of our collaboration with NEHDA, we’ve asked her to write guest posts for us each month, taking a deeper look into the Northside, its businesses and residents. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.
Typically, I hear at least three different languages being spoken throughout my workday. I am constantly amazed by the number of cultures that are represented in our city, so I was thrilled to be invited into an English Language Learner (ELL) class at the White Branch Library.
As I waited in the hall outside of the library’s community room, I could hear students reciting different colors. “Brown,” “green,” and “blue” were met with responses of “very good” and “excellent!”
Once the morning class began to leave, I was welcomed into the classroom by Rozlynn and Chyloe—teachers with the Syracuse City School District.
Both women teach three ELL classes a day through the City’s Refugee Assistance Program, also known as “Bob’s School.” Their classes are broken into beginner, intermediate beginner, and advanced beginner—by the time students have made their way through the three levels, they will have developed basic English conversational skills.
“We went to Hospital Land on Monday, so that is what we will build today’s conversation around,” Rozlynn said as she readied the room for the next class. Hospital Land is a program offered through Crouse Hospital that lets groups spend the day in a clinical setting learning things like personal hygiene and medical protocol.
Once Rozlynn finished getting all of her supplies together, she let the next wave of students into the room. With much energy, she and Chyloe greeted students by name and asked about their neighbors and families. You would never guess that they had just finishing teaching a two-hour long English class only five minutes prior.
“Did you like Hospital Land?” Chyloe asked the class, which was met with a chorus of “yes!” from the students.
Field trips like the one to Hospital Land serve many different purposes for the ELL class. For starters, they offer talking points for the next lesson, but they also teach New Americans other life-skills that they need in order to thrive in Syracuse. On just their trip to Hospital Land, students learned about boarding a Centro bus, asking for a transfer, calling to schedule doctor appointments, reading the labels on prescription medicines, and much more.
Some of their other trips include: visiting Rite Aid and learning how to use the store’s tablets to communicate with the pharmacist; going to the Farmer’s Market and asking for prices and then paying with American currency; and going to the Fire Station, where everyone learns how to make a house safety plan and can sign up to have fire detectors installed in their homes. These trips are an opportunity for New Americans to learn about their community with people they trust, but they also help the community to engage with refugees. These interactions lead to understanding, acceptance, and a level of comfort on both sides.
When the class meets after one of their field trips, they cover everything they learned while actively practicing English. First, Rozlynn and Chyloe ask students questions and guide them through the correct answers. Then the students take turns asking each other questions and offering answers. There is also time for writing their answers down, and spelling out words with letter tiles. All of these techniques get students reading, writing, and speaking—covering all aspects of the English language in an engaging way.
Throughout the class, I watched Rozlynn and Chyloe help students one-on-one and as a group. If they were both occupied and someone needed help, their volunteer Teacher’s Assistant, Lawrence, would step in. Lawrence is 78 years old and helps with the ELL classes every day. As a graduate of the classes himself, he knows the importance of learning English in order to navigate Syracuse.
“If you don’t know the language . . .” he trailed off while raising his hands. Lawrence explained that you cannot get things accomplished if you are unable to communicate.
Sitting in the class, it hit me how hard the refugees on the Northside have to work in order to participate in our community. As someone who took French in high school and Spanish in college, but now can only recognize a few words of each, I admired how much information all of the students remembered from their field trip and how hard they worked to speak a new language.
We are lucky to be part of a city that has so many vibrant cultures and people from different backgrounds; and with support like these ELL classes, New Americans are able to gain enough skills and confidence to actively engage with our community and share their unique traditions and perspectives.