This blog post is a continuation of Classroom on Wheels.
What would your learners think about learning English in a 34 foot truck? ESL To Go program manager Leah Hashinger and curriculum coordinator Ashley Ekers share more about an innovative program in Nashville, Tennessee that delivers English language learning in a mobile classroom.
What has been the learners' reaction to the ESL To Go truck?
Ashley: They love it! They’re very impressed that it can come to their homes, and the overall reaction from the refugee community and partner organizations has been only positive. The truck attracts lots of potential students as well. We get frequent visitors while we’re setting up or teaching class, asking us about our services and who is eligible.
What kind of impact does this program have on the lives of refugees?
Leah: Our program gives refugees who otherwise do not have the opportunity to attend ESL classes the chance to learn English. Some of these learners have lived in Nashville for years, but until the truck pulled up in front of them homes, had never attended an ESL class.
When I think about our program’s success stories, one woman always tops the list.
I was introduced to a young woman from Burma, in the summer of 2012. Her daughter has a disability that causes health complications such as seizures and decreased mobility. This learner spoke no English when we were introduced. Through an interpreter, she explained that she wanted to learn English, so she could be a better mother for her daughter. She felt that she had exhausted her case worker and English-speaking Burmese community leaders who she so heavily relied on when going to doctor’s appointments, applying for social services benefits, and battling with insurance companies. She wanted to be able to take care of her daughter without having to so heavily rely on others, but she knew that was not possible without gaining English proficiency.
She was not able to travel to an English class because her daughter needed constant care and attention, so I found a dedicated volunteer to teach her English in her home once a week.
Word soon got out about this makeshift ESL class, and other Burmese women with young children began asking for English classes as well.
When the mobile classroom arrived in May 2013, it only made sense to launch ESL to Go classes at this site. At our first night of open testing and registration, over 40 refugees lined up seeking classes. Among them was this learner.
She now attends class on the truck twice a week. She has gained so much knowledge and confidence and isn’t shy to use the English she has learned. I recently ran into her when stopping by the apartment complex office, and she invited me in for coffee. The last time I had been in her home, over a year ago, she was too shy to look me in the eye, and was only able to communicate through the interpreter. Over coffee, we chatted about her husband’s job, her daughter’s progress, and how much she likes her English teacher. Although she has a long way to go to be able to attend medical appointments without an interpreter, she’s well on her way to having a voice that matches her resilient spirit.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about this program?
ESL to Go is truly a community driven project. This program would not work if not for the buy-in from resettlement agencies, refugee community leaders, and supporters. Our team makes a point to work in collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure we’re filling the gaps where needed, not duplicating services.
The outpouring of support we’ve received from local leaders, media outlets, and complete strangers has made me feel so honored to be working in such an inviting city open to new ideas and new people.
If you have a similar program in your community, we'd like to hear about it. We invite you to share your reflections about this innovative program.