Learning English is a Family Affair

March 1, 2014

Arsht-Cannon Fund supports growth of ESL program in Rehoboth Beach “Do you speak English?” Thanks to the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Rehoboth Beach and the Arsht-Cannon Fund at the Delaware Community Foundation, more new Delaware residents are proudly saying, “Yes!” Ten years ago, the Lutheran Church launched an educational ministry to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to new residents of Delaware. The program started with 40 adult male students. Today more than 220 men and women attend classes at the church. What was the key to this successful growth? Finding the women and meeting the needs of whole families. With financial support from the Arsht-Cannon Fund, the church staff and volunteers restructured the program to include childcare and other services. As soon as childcare was available, the number of women students increased 50 percent. Families from more than a dozen countries are now represented. English classes are held twice a week for enthusiastic adults from countries around the world, including Mexico, Syria, Ecuador, Belarus, Thailand, India, Brazil and Honduras. More than 40 dedicated volunteers provide instruction and support services. With the addition of childcare came the realization that some of the children were arriving hungry. In response, the childcare program was expanded to include a nutrition component. A chef was hired to serve meals aligned with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “My Plate” initiative. While their parents are learning English, the children now learn about healthy food choices and enjoy a tasty meal. As the ESL program grew, it quickly became apparent that some of the enrolled adults had never learned to read or write in their native language. The volunteers met this challenge by creating an adult literacy program for students who need more than English skills. The church also launched the Family Literacy International Program in 2011 to provide a quality second-language learning experience for parents with preschoolers. This approach helps parents support their children’s literacy development while at the same time assisting the adults with their own literacy skills. It also teaches practical skills to preschoolers that are necessary for a smooth transition in the school system. This vibrant ESL program continues to grow. With the support of the Arsht-Cannon Fund, the next step is adding a computer literacy component. “We tend to take computer skills for granted, but technology can be intimidating and challenging to people who haven’t grown up around computers,” said Dr. Christine Cannon, director of the Arsht-Cannon Fund. “Computer skills will help these new Delawareans find jobs, support their children’s educations, and grow into our community.”