Last fall, a small group of Spanish students and their teacher, Jonathan Sirois, began visiting the Community Economic Development Center (CEDC) in New Bedford to explore ways to be engaged with the large immigrant population there. In the year since, the partnership has expanded significantly to mutual benefit: Now, over 30 students visit the center twice a week in what is one of Tabor’s largest student clubs.
Wanting to expand Tabor’s connections to the city in a way that would be mutually impactful, he discussed with the CEDC having Tabor’s students help teach English as a Second Language to the immigrants coming there for assistance. He hoped this opportunity would allow students a chance to develop intercultural competence.
“Meaningfully connecting with others, enriching the lives of all parties involved, is the ultimate goal of language. While our students have the opportunity to use some Spanish when working with immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, their partners are often from Cape Verde and other places where Spanish is not spoken. However, all students involved, no matter their background, use language-learning skills to facilitate authentic communication,” shared Sirois.
Last spring, Sirois’ Spanish 3 Honors class undertook a major project, surveying ESOL students at the CEDC in order to determine which lessons would most meaningfully enhance their lives. Options were bountiful, including how to order food in a restaurant, how to buy a bus ticket, how to speak to a school counselor, how to call out sick from work, how to explain one’s ailments, and how to make small talk with new friends. Next, the students prioritized lesson themes and worked in teams to produce bilingual, didactic videos, aimed at teaching high-frequency vocabulary and language structures. Their lessons are based around the real-life scenarios from the survey, and ESOL students can practice further at home with the videos.
The project was a huge success. In fact, Sirois and co-presenters Georgia West ’18 and Chris Mills ’19 recently presented the work the class did to the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) conference in Springfield, MA. They described how they went about creating the personalized ESOL materials informed by and geared towards the real-life needs of the students they served.
“Attending the MaFLA conference was a rewarding experience and will definitely be beneficial in the long run. I am so passionate about it and being able to share stories and information about this program to help inspire others was incredible,” shared co-presenter Georgia West.
On campus, as students got wind of the project, the group expanded this fall and formed a new club called Juntos (“Together” in Spanish and Portuguese), involving over 30 student participants. Run by a student board with faculty support from Sirois and a crew of loyal faculty drivers, student tutors travel two nights a week to the CEDC in New Bedford to work with primarily recently-arrived immigrants from Central America, Cape Verde and beyond. While many of the students participating in Juntos are Spanish language students, it is not a requirement of the club to speak Spanish.
Chris Mills ‘19, one of the club leaders, shared, “The work ranges from teaching a thirty year old how to ask for a raise at work to teaching a little boy how to tell a girl she is pretty. For me, seeing the development of their English skills is the most impactful. You begin work with people who can barely say the alphabet and after a few weeks they are having a full conversation with you. To have the opportunity to help these people, who work so hard every day and still make the effort to learn English, is so inspiring.“
Sirois added, “The most inspiring part of this endeavor has been the deep level of connectivity among the Tabor and ESOL students. They interact joyously and thoughtfully, both parties aware of the far-reaching implications of their time together.”
Mills concluded, “It is rewarding to see the impact our program is having. But the best part is, every Thursday night I am not only inspired by the dedication and hard working spirit of the immigrants we help, but given a new sense of appreciation for my own life as well.”