Outreach for English language learners

By Daniel Wackershauser

An eager group of adults in Darlington, Wisc., is on their way to learning English. A partnership between Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and the Darlington School District, has drawn approximately 60 adult learners to weekly classes since September.

Kalee Crist, a Darlington High School graduate and a bi-lingual teacher at the high school is working two nights each week for Southwest Tech, teaching ELL (English Language Learner) classes to Darlington residents. The classes are held at the high school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 p.m., 5-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Students can choose which hour they’d like to attend.

Southwest Tech operates an outreach center in each five-county county district. ELL courses are offered free of charge at each outreach center.

“The goal of the class is to help students improve their skills in reading, writing, and speaking English,” said Julie Pluemer, adult basic education/outreach coordinator at Southwest Tech. “Ideally, we would love to help them find an appropriate career path, whether it be through further training or direct employment.”

“The growth of the class has been phenomenal,” Pluemer said. “Kalee has new students joining the class each week. It is more than I anticipated. We will do our best to accommodate all students who want to participate.”

“It has been incredible,” said Crist, who double-majored in elementary and Spanish education at UW-Platteville and has traveled the world honing her Spanish-speaking and comprehension skills.

Although her academic experiences have taught her a lot, Crist notes that her best teachers have been her students. “I am constantly learning new words and cultural norms, traditions, and unique perspectives from my students and their families, and I feel blessed that they share their lives with me,” she said.

Crist taught Spanish at Lancaster High School for one year before joining the Darlington School District 10 years ago. “I feel like our district has done an excellent job meeting the needs of our students and our families, but that next phase was meeting the needs of the parents and their language learning,” she said.

When Crist was initially hired for the communications/adult adjunct instructor position through Southwest Tech, she focused on recruiting parents of her students. “I had a huge number of people apply,” she said. “And then it opened up to the community, as well.”

Many of the high school students that Crist teaches are first-generation students. “After the students’ own language learning experience in our district, they are now able to translate for their parents when they go to hospitals or to the grocery store, etc,” said Crist. “That gives them a great sense of pride.  Now I am super excited that their families are learning simultaneously alongside their children.  It’s been a really beautiful process.”

“I had the pleasure of visiting Kalee and her students recently,” Southwest Tech President Jason Wood said. “I am very impressed with all of the work they are doing. The students are certainly excited about this opportunity, and we are thrilled to be able to partner with the school district to make this happen.”

One of the unique things the Darlington School District features is it has an English language Facebook page, as well as a Spanish-language Facebook page. This page, along with the  WhatsApp texting application allows Crist to post updates and notices for her Spanish-speaking population. “Our community and our district have done an incredible job of growing with the times and growing with the population and the needs of our community,” said Crist. “Our school district has definitely been the front runner of figuring out how to meet those challenges.”

With the classes being held at the high school, Crist informs the adult learners about events happening at the high school after class, and oftentimes they attend the events, which has increased parental and community involvement with the school.

Crist’s students come from all over the world.  In one class, she might have seven countries represented including South Korea, Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and more.

As for the goal, learning English can open many doors for her students. “I have several students who want to improve their English so that they are able to get their GED and improve their job opportunities,” said Crist. “However, the majority of the adults in the classes just want to be able to communicate with their neighbors and be able to use their English to help their children with homework and to communicate independently at local businesses.”

Read the full article here.

Daniel Wackershauser

is a marketing specialist at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore, Wisconsin.