Image courtesy of Luminitsa on Flickr.
Steps From Saturday ESL To College, by Kevin Lathrop
Teachers and staff in the STEP Program are looking at ways to increase opportunities for students who study on Saturday to enter college and prepare for careers, or, in some cases, resume careers they had before.
Diego is a student from Colombia who is in his fifth quarter in the STEP Program. He is interested in going to college to study something involving architecture. He was a topographer for three years. The problems stopping him from pursuing higher education are English and time. He works six days a week and sometimes seven. Diego has a twenty-six year old son who works as an accountant, having graduated from Saint John’s University. Diego hopes his son can one day supplement the household income so that he can reduce his work schedule to three or four days a week. If that happens, Diego can go to college. Otherwise, he says, he would need to win the Lottery.
Amparo, from Ecuador, has been at LaGuardia for three levels, the first two at night and now on Saturdays. In Ecuador, she finished high school. She took a vocational course to become a beautician. Now she wants to study American Sign Language or Nutrition at LaGuardia. She wants to change her job, make more money, and she has time for study. She works from eight to three-thirty five days a week. Amparo would like to take as many courses as possible on weekends, when her schedule is lighter. Her only problem is English. She needs to know if it is possible to study her major at LaGuardia and continue English courses at the same time.
Olga is from Colombia and has a fifteen month old daughter. She also has a ten year old daughter. She is busy, but she has found time for English classes on Saturdays for two semesters. She also has studied at York College, but she had to stop because of time constraints. At New York City Tech she took a course and received a certificate as a dental assistant. However, English has prevented her from getting a job. The people hiring ask for experience. Olga has a lot- she worked as a dental assistant in Colombia for ten years- but she feels unprepared for all the writing and phone work a job here would require. Olga plans to continue taking ESL courses on Saturday.
Ayda is from Colombia. She has been living in New York since eight years ago. She was an accountant in Colombia and has worked as an assistant accountant in New York for five years. Ayda wants to improve her English, get her university credits from Colombia evaluated, and take a degree course in accounting as soon as possible. She knows what she has to do and has the time and money to proceed. She feels the only thing stopping her now is English, and she is acting to overcome that obstacle now.
Jose came from El Salvador in 2,000. He would like to study American Sign Language. (It’s not clear whether Jose or Amparo got the idea first). What’s blocking Jose’s way forward is his English. Also, he has a younger sister whom he would like to go to college. He must decide whether to support her studies or his own- managing both is impossible. He is considering taking a short course for a career but as yet has no idea what kind. Jose needs information and advice.
Wandy describes her situation as very simple. “I don’t have time.” She works six days a week. She would like to go to college. “No one in New York has time!” she says with some frustration. Wandy has been in the United States for one and a half years, and this is her first time at LaGuardia. She wa an accountant in the Dominican Republic and works as an accountant here, but without a degree her income is low. “Very low,” Wandy reiterates.
Sirly is also an accountant. She has experience in accounting in Colombia but has never worked as an accountant in the U.S. When she first came here, she really wanted to go to college and did everything she could to go to realize that ambition. “But no time, no paperwork, so no..” She paused. “LaGuardia gives the same opportunities to everyone, but not if you don’t have papers.” Financial aid is unavailable to the undocumented. Sirly is not clear what is possible for her. “Now I’m tired,” she said. She has completed a certificate course in bookkeeping, scoring one hundred on all her tests (her current teacher is not surprised). She named two problems. The first is her lack of experience in her profession here. The second problem is English. She can carry on a conversation effectively, but in accounting language errors about small details can have large consequences. She doesn’t feel comfortable. Instead, she is frustrated and intimidated. She realizes that to go to school she would have to quit her job and have her husband support her. She worries about her age. “When I watched the speech by Steve Jobs, I thought, ‘My God, that’s what I want to do.’ But I’m not in my twenties. I have a teenage son.”
Gabriela, from Poland, says her story is “very short, two lines.” She has studied at LaGuardia in one level. She has no plans to go to college because she doesn’t have papers, worries that if she finishes college she still won1’t be able to get a job. If she had papers, she would go to college for a degree in accounting. “Those are my two problems, English and papers.”
Andrea finished high school in Paraguay and has a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She is now looking forward to enrolling in college here. She is sure she wants to go to college, no matter what. Neither English nor money will stop her.
Luisa is from Colombia, has lived here for two years and a half, and is completing her third level in the STEP Program. She has a degree in business administration. The course took five years. Luisa doesn’t know if that is equivalent to a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. Now she wants to study occupational therapy “for a change.” She plans to open her own import business next year in any case. At present, Luisa is working three days a week taking care of a baby and three days a week teaching Spanish. Her plan is for her husband to continue the import business while she goes to college.
Level 4 in STEP seems to be the point when students have enough English to begin thinking about higher education needed to achieve goals in life. Taking Saturdays to study English is a crucial step. We want it to be the first of many.