Canyon County residents participated in free, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes this past spring made possible through a grant from Zions Bank, in partnership with Caldwell School District, United Way’s Community Schools Project, local volunteers, and College of Western Idaho (CWI).
The classes, taught by CWI Basic Skills Education instructors, Dawn Kleint and Courtney Painton, were held at Sacajawea Elementary, in Caldwell, where many of the participant’s children attend school. Sacajawea Elementary is one of first two schools in Canyon County designated as a community school, a place for children and families within the school boundaries – who may be struggling with language barriers, poor health, or a lack of basic necessities – to find support. As Sacajawea’s Community Schools Coordinator, sponsored by United Way, Hortensia Hernandez helps connect these individuals to resources and support services in the community, such as these ESL classes, promoting long-term success. What began as a conversation hour in February, became a formal class in April with more than a dozen students regularly attending each week. Volunteers from a local church provided free childcare with enrichment activities for children whose parents were in the classes, expanding the ESL program’s benefits to enhance the lives of entire families.
“Eventually we had 25 students, creating a need to expand our classroom space and hire an additional instructor. It’s a good problem to have!” said Trevi Hardy, ESL and Pathways Supervisor in CWI’s Basic Skills Education department. “Because we had so many students, we were able to split the class into two levels. Doing so provided our students access to instruction more specific to their level – a beginner class for those completely new to speaking English focused on navigating life and an advanced class focused more on grammar and language skills needed for employment. ”
Estela Ayala was a student in the advanced class. “I work in the fields now. I want to learn English to get a better job,” she said. “Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to improve myself,” she said. “You are changing my life!”
CWI’s ESL program is one of three in Idaho and Utah based on the vision of Scott Anderson, President and CEO of Zions Bank, and Theresa Martinez, a professor and former administrator at University of Utah, who manages the program for the bank. As a fourth-generation Mexican American, Martinez said her passion for access to language programming stemmed from her childhood – observing how others treated her mother, who spoke with a thick, Spanish accent.
Martinez proposed the idea of partnering to provide adults affordable access to advanced ESL programming in 2004 and Anderson, already recognizing a need and considering this type of programming effort within the Utah community, helped their vision become a reality in the spring of 2005. Anderson and Martinez expanded their efforts to Idaho the same year. Thanks to the funding and ongoing commitment from Zions Bank, the program continues to evolve and meet the needs of the community.
“It’s been gratifying to learn what ESL graduates have been able to achieve over the years we’ve been supporting this program with CWI,” Anderson said. “We believe the program is creating greater economic opportunities for students and helping to meet an important community need. In addition, the children of these students will benefit immeasurably from their parents’ enhanced language skills, creating a cycle of learning and growth.”
“It has truly been a labor of love,” said Martinez. “Knowing each program is accountable and meaningful to the students is the key. We see this at CWI.”
Funding for the ESL classes, through a grant from Zions Bank, will continue for the 2018-2019 academic year. Classes will start up again this fall at Sacajawea Elementary with hopes of expanding offerings to students with an intermediate level.