Community Schools, Volunteers, and ESLC — Making a Difference!

tim-coray-2-1by Tim Coray
Granger Elementary Community School Director

English Skills Learning Center is a partner in many of our Community Schools. This valuable resource provides English language lessons to community members and parents of our students, many of whom are recently immigrated or resettled individuals. Taught by trained volunteers, these classes aim to empower parents of school-aged children with the conversational skills and confidence to navigate the American school system. Granger Elementary, where I work as the Community School Director, currently offers beginning and intermediate English classes, two evenings per week.

United Way of Salt Lake encourages its employees to regularly volunteer with our partnering organizations and in our Community Schools. This spirit of volunteerism not only allows us to have a positive impact in our community, it also increases our knowledge of the agencies and their contribution to the work of Collective Impact. I volunteer my time by teaching one of the ESLC Empowering Parents classes at Granger Elementary. Prior to joining Unites Way of Salt Lake, I taught middle and high school English. With my transition from the classroom, I was not entirely ready to give up the rewarding challenge of working with students directly. Becoming a volunteer teacher of emerging English speakers has definitely satisfied that desire–and hopefully equipped parents with valuable skills. Also, it has allowed me to get to know a variety of the families I serve in the school and spread the good word of all our Community School offerings.

class graduation

One of ESLC’s Graduating Classes

This week, KSL Radio host, Nkoyo Iyamba, featured the work of the English Skills Learning Center on her weekly program entitled Cultural Connections. The show featured a panel consisting of ESLC’s Empowering Parents Coordinator Elizabeth McAninch, Glendale Community Center’s Elizabeth Montoya, and myself. Among a variety of topics, we discussed how the classes can promote literacy in students’ households. One of the best examples of this, we discussed, was how children’s books are integrated into classes’ curriculum.

My class recently used the children’s bedtime book entitled “Hush!” to discuss the importance of parents reading to their children regularly. Each adult ESL student was given a copy of the book to keep and the opportunity to practice reading it aloud. Then, they took it home and read it with their children. The next week, all of the students were eager to report about the success they had engaging their children. One mother joked that while she read her child’s eyes were firmly fixed on her instead of the book. Despite the amusing illustrations, the daughter was more interested that her mom was speaking to her in English. A first for the family, the proud mother reported.  

To accommodate the varied needs of our families and because of increasing popularity, we are excited to be adding third Empowering Parents English class. Offered twice a week in the morning, this new class will be perfect for parents who drop their children off for school. Parents’ requests for this expansion as well as anecdotes from current classes are evidence that the work is providing a beneficial experience for families.

Photo c/o

Photo c/o

To learn more about volunteering with English Skills Learning Center, visit their website or contact United Way of Salt Lake Volunteer Center at!

Partnering to Empower Parents – Collective Impact in Action!

by Elizabeth McAninch
English Skills Learning Center
Empowering Parents Coordinator

The mission at the English Skills Learning Center and it’s Empowering Parents program aims to help parents of school-aged children, by providing the language tools necessary for integration and success in the United States school system.

This mission would not be possible without our partners in the community, including our elementary schools. While the partnership between the English Skills Learning Center and Oquirrh Hills Elementary School, a United Way of Salt Lake Neighborhood Center located in Kearns, is fairly new — over the past year, it has become a model for a thriving, student-centered cooperation, that aims to further the shared goals of United Way of Salt Lake’s Collective Impact work, as well as empower parents learning a new language and culture.

OH EP October 2014 2

Last school year, we were able to reach out to parents of children at Oquirrh Hills and other community members, and offer free English classes with 10-15 students attending twice a week. These students engaged in lessons that discussed a wide variety of subjects such as report cards, parent-teacher conferences, attendance, and an array of other topics. Some students are back for their second year in the 2014/2015 school year, with a fierce determination to give their children the best chance of success in school as possible!

Student engagement, retention, and success would not be as strong without the partnership that has emerged between the two organizations and we hope to continue to engage parents in significant and relevant learning for years to come! 

Oquirrh Hills EP October 2014

Oquirrh Hills Elementary School’s Parent Center Gets a Fresh Start!

linton-stephanieby Stephanie Linton
Oquirrh Hills Community School Coordinator

Oquirrh Hills Elementary is proud to announce that our Parent Center is getting a fresh start! We have been working to create a positive culture where students, families, and the community feel welcome in our school and can become engaged in education.

Part of this culture has been to create an evening adult education program. After many months, a grant through United Way of Salt Lake has been secured which gives us the ability to keep the school building open until 8:00 p.m. The first class being offered is an Empowering Parent English class, provided twice a week by our partners at the English Skills Learning Center. Additional partnerships are being created to offer more adult classes and a quality program for children to attend during this time.

One problem we faced however, was that our Parent Center seemed to be sending the wrong message. It was a portable classroom in the corner of our back parking lot. This space was also used for additional supply storage and without a key, the only way to get into the school building was to walk around to the front of the school, which is very out of the way.

We recognized that if we wanted our parents to feel a part of our school, we needed to give them a space inside our school. With the support of our faculty, and the generous labor from several members of our custodial staff, we converted an office space into an inviting, and usable space for parents. Groups such as the PTA and the Community Council will now have a space of their own to congregate. Parents will easily be able to speak with our Parent Liaison and have a place to go for services, learn of volunteer opportunities, and find ways to better help their students succeed academically.

Oquirrh Hills Elementary is a small school, and space is definitely hard to come by. While the Parent Center is also small, several faculty and staff members had to change rooms or share spaces to make this possible. This goes to show how much commitment exists to becoming a successful community school, devoted to seeing our students and families reach their potential.

Parent Center

Empowering Adults at the English Skills Learning Center!

by Rachel Blackmer
English Skills Learning Center
Guest Blogger

The English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) had a class graduation for employees of the University of Utah who participated in a Workplace English class provided by the ESLC. Twelve students received certificates congratulating them on the progress they made on the post-tests at the end of the class. The employees who participated in the class were from Somalia, Mexico, Croatia, Guatemala, and Bhutan and had varying levels of English ability. The students learned how to fill out work forms, call in sick or late to work, give directions to visitors on campus, ask clarifying questions when given directions from supervisors, and report problems to supervisors.

One of the students, Bedha, is from Nepal and had only lived in the U.S. for 8 months when he started attending the classes. He had attended college and had been a teacher in Nepal. At the class graduation, he gave a speech about what he had learned in the class and said that this class had helped him make the decision to go to college! He plans to attend Salt Lake Community College later on this year. This encouraged some of the other students to also look into taking college courses. The successes of these students exemplify the powerful results of the ESLC’s mission to bring the promise of integration, security, and empowerment to adult English language learners in Salt Lake County.

class graduationEnglish Skills Learning Center works with United Way of Salt Lake as a Strategy Partner. English Skills Learning Center serves Kearns, South Salt Lake, and West Valley City by training volunteers to teach and supervise English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.

In the Same Shoes

by an ESLC Volunteer
English Skills Learning Center

If I would describe something I love to do in one simple word, it would be “service.” Ever since elementary school, I have volunteered because I knew it would help build my experience and make a difference.  However in tenth grade, I found an extraordinary place that I identified with, the English Skills Learning Center. Through this non-profit organization, I was able to become an English teacher to a Thai family.  It has made a remarkable difference in my life.  I have truly learned that ESL students aren’t just faced with an English language barrier but also a new culture.  Knowing this helped me make my lesson plans more meaningful and powerful.

Being an English teacher helped me remember when I was an ESL student in the U.S. for the first time.  At first, being in the plane and going to a new country was an exciting new adventure.  However, that excitement soon disappeared as I started school.  On the first day of school I went through an evaluation process to determine my level of skills. The session where they determined my literacy skills was the longest of all, as I did not even know the “ABC”s at the time.  The person examining me a had a friendly smile on her face and was talking to me in a language that I had never heard.  The school I was attending at the time did not have a fully developed ESL program.  Therefore, I was placed in “ESL Level 1” during the normal English periods, but was placed in regular mainstream classes for all other subjects.

It took me three times as long to learn and complete the material than any other student because I had to find out the meaning of the words.  Going to school left me feeling frustrated and ignorant.  I could not make any friends or do anything during my regular class time but make sure that my seat was not empty, which was difficult because I am a very active and outgoing person.  However, for the duration of the school day I was not myself.  I could not speak my mind, laugh with my classmates, or even answer a simple math question–and I could not answer my parents when they asked me what I had learned at school that day.

Even though I dreaded going to school every day I went, and over time, after observing and imitating, I started to pick up the language slowly.  I slowly moved up levels in ESL and as I got better I felt more confident in what I was doing at school.

The outcomes of my perseverance were great. I got the opportunity to jump a grade and through practice, time, and commitment, I became fluent in English and began to excel academically.  Now I am taking full-time college and high school l classes where I have the opportunity to not only tutor ESL students, but also college students with their writing.

Living in another country forced me to become a stronger person and shaped my success.  Learning a new language changed me as a person because of the process and the hardships that I had to endure at the time.  Everything happens for a reason and being in a new country and learning a new language created a strong me.

***English Skills Learning Center works with United Way of Salt Lake as a Strategy Partner. English Skills Learning Center serves Kearns, South Salt Lake, and West Valley City by training volunteers to teach and supervise English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.***

Ibrahim Achieved his Dream and Changed his Life!

by Ahmad Zia Afzali
English Skills Learning Center

If one has never attended school nor is able to read or write in any language, then passing the U.S. citizenship test can be a huge milestone that would require years of effort and hard work to become a U.S citizen.

Ibrahim Mohamed came to the United States in October 2004 from a refugee camp in Kenya, but he is originally from Somalia. He became an English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) student in May 2010 and informed us that his goal was to pass the U.S. citizenship test. Being a father of 10 children (two of whom are disabled) and head of a 12 member household, it has not been easy for Ibrahim to be able to attend class or to learn and prepare for the citizenship test. On top of that, Ibrahim never attended school and isn’t able to read and write in any language. However, Ibrahim managed his time in order to attend class provided by the ESLC and worked hard in hopes of achieving his goal: to be an American.

During this period of time he worked with several volunteer teachers who were supported by ESLC staff.  All of his volunteer teachers were so impressed with Ibrahim’s hard work, enthusiasm, and interest in attending class.  Since 2010, Ibrahim has taken the citizenship test four times, once in 2010, once in 2011 and twice in 2012.  While he was not able to pass the test in his first three attempts, he never lost his interest and continued working and attending class. Finally his hard work paid off and he successfully passed the citizenship test in his fourth attempt which was on August 7, 2012!!  I know and feel how much it means to Ibrahim to be a U.S citizen. The ESLC volunteers and staff acknowledge that we have a big responsibility, but together we can accomplish the goals of our students.

Now that Ibrahim achieved his dream he has changed his life and family status.  It is now time to express our appreciation and thanks to our great volunteers who dedicated their time during this long journey to help Ibrahim achieve his goal.  Thank you for making a monumental difference and supporting our mission: bringing the promise of integration, security, and empowerment to adult newcomers in Salt Lake County.

Congratulations Ibrahim and thank you to everyone at the English Skills Learning Center for LIVING UNITED!

***English Skills Learning Center works with United Way of Salt Lake as a Strategy Partner. English Skills Learning Center serves Kearns, South Salt Lake, and West Valley City by training volunteers to teach and supervise English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.***

A Teacher’s Job is Never Done

by Catharine Preston
English Skills Learning Center
Guest Blogger

In November, I signed an 8-month contract, in which research was to be conducted about the best way to educate emergent readers. The research was fascinating, yet also difficult. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Our goal was to find out the things that worked, implement them, and make those techniques an accessible reality to our volunteers.

I began teaching at the Villa Franche Community and Welcome Center (a United Way of Salt Lake Community Learning Center) at the end of November. Most of the students scored very low on the ERLE test (a test we use specifically to measure the levels of those who are still learning the Roman alphabet, or emergent readers). One student was even a level 0. At these kind of levels, it’s not unusual for a student to take years to learn to read. Over the course of about 6 months, the students learned 10 letters, as well as slides, and three-letter words. It was a marvelous experience for them and for myself. They were dedicated beyond belief, and I admired their determination to learn.

On June 14, I taught my final class at Villa Franche. The research had ended, and the class was being handed over to a volunteer. Their post-test levels showed incredible progress. The student who was previously at a level 0, was now an astounding level 5! All of the other students made significant level gains as well.

As I was wrapping up the final class, and preparing to say good-bye, I told the students, “I am finished as your teacher now. Your new teacher is Cassidy. She will teach you on Tuesday. I am finished.” One student then looked me right in the eye, pointed to me, and said, “Teacher, you are not finished. You are…” the student then proceeded to point directly to his heart.

Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If you can read this, thank a teacher”. It’s easy to get caught up in level gains. It’s easy to get caught up in their progress, their spelling, or their pronunciation. These things are important. However, sometimes, do we forget to see the big picture? Do we forget to see that we are teachers? Truly, teachers? What we teach the students is their foundation for their new life here. The classes may finish. You may decide volunteering isn’t fitting in with your new schedule. Whatever the case, you will never stop being a teacher to someone. You are impacting their lives far beyond what you may comprehend, and will continue to do so.

You are never finished.

***United Way of Salt Lake works in partnership with the English Skills Learning Center to service West Valley, Kearns, South Salt Lake, and different Welcome Centers.  The ESLC provides training to volunteers and supervises them as they teach free English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.***