Empowering English language learners for healthcare careers

By Carmelyn M. Daley-Hinkens

Ange Musamwaro and Maira Lopez sit quietly as they watch and wait their turn.

They’re observing a classmate perform a series of nursing tasks while being evaluated by Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) nursing assistant instructor Betsy Rath. The evaluation is a trial run of the state exam they will soon take to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

This isn’t an unusual day in the classroom at FVTC, but the class itself is unique. This fall, the English language learning (ELL) and nursing departments partnered together to offer an integrated education and training class for English language learners who want to become CNAs. Musamwaro, who moved to Appleton, Wisc., from Congo with her family in 2019, is one of six students who recently completed the program.

“As you may tell, English is not my first language,” Musamwaro explains. “But when I came to Appleton, I learned that Fox Valley Technical College provided a lot of help to learn English. So, I thought this would be a good place for me to get help and then I learned about the CNA class.”

The semester-long program brought students to the classroom four days a week. On two of the days, Rath led nursing theory classes and hands-on training with ELL instructor Josh Harmon also in the classroom to provide language support. The other two days students worked with Harmon to learn field-relevant vocabulary, reading, test-taking and study strategies.

“Betsy and I found a rhythm quickly and we complemented each other well. She knows everything about the CNA world, and I was well attuned to the students’ language needs,” Harmon offers. “I have years of experience teaching ELL and focus closely on students’ nonverbal cues. I also have a fairly good idea of what vocabulary, language structures, and cultural norms students may not be familiar with, things most of us take for granted others understand.”

The curriculum also included clinical practice at Edenbrook of Appleton, a long-term care and rehabilitation facility where students were able to work alongside staff. Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Appleton with her family in 2022, especially enjoyed the in-the-field training.

“We were always really busy, but it was good to be busy,” Lopez explains. “Everyone is so nice and respectful. They would like to talk to me and say, ‘Oh, you are from Mexico? I traveled to Mexico’ and we would talk about that. And the people who live there would also say that they knew I was learning so they would allow me to practice my skills with them.”

After completing the class at FVTC, the students are now eligible to take the state certification exam. Musamwaro and Lopez both hope to work in a long-term care facility while taking more ELL classes. Musamwaro has her sights set on continuing her education in nursing.

After offering this class for the first time, Rath and Harmon have ideas on how they will continue to enhance the program for future students.

“It was a great success. For me, I adjusted my delivery of content after I understood the needs of the students,” Rath says. “I believe the class had an overall positive effect on instructors, administrators and students.”

This article originally appeared here.

Carmelyn M. Daley-Hinkens

is the public relations and content manager at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin.