Students Earn Credit by Teaching English and Civic Lessons to Immigrants

May 25, 2011

Nadine Alexander, a senior health and nutrition sciences student who has been accepted to Johns Hopkins, recently accomplished something that took her outside the realm of her major: She taught English and civic lessons in the same setting to immigrants. As one of the Brooklyn College student facilitators in the We Are New York program, Alexander not only provided a valuable service, she also received credit for community service for her effort.

Thirty immigrants enrolled in the program at Brooklyn College, which is designed to improve their English conversational skills. At the end of the training — twice a week, for six weeks — the participants received certificates signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for having completed the program.

A joint effort by CUNY and the Mayor's Office of Adult Education, the program uses nine CUNY-produced videos about daily life events that, in addition to teaching English vocabulary and expressions, help participants learn about the services the city provides. After each episode, facilitators — all of whom received training prior to the beginning of the class — follow a lesson plan, discussing with participants what they just watched and asking them to complete sentences or play TV games similar to Jeopardy!

"I think this is a more practical way of learning the language," said Zhanbolat Kenzhebayev, a Kazakhstani immigrant who heard about the program at his local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. In 2008, he took a few English lessons in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States. "And it is more fun," he added, noting that he also enjoyed learning about other immigrant communities in Brooklyn from his classmates.

Marie Seide, a Haitian immigrant who is a certified nursing assistant, couldn't agree more. She learned about the program through the Haitian Bilingual/ESL Technical Assistance Center at Brooklyn College, which is funded by the New York State Education Department.

"I felt the exercises helped me overcome my shyness, and I now feel more confident about my English," said Seide shortly before receiving her certificate. "It's going to make a big difference in the way I relate to my patients," she added.

Along with Alexander, the other student facilitators included Erika Gil, an English teaching major; Vanessa Rene, a television and radio freshman; Sabine Saint-Cyr, a psychology senior; and Nakaiya Nicholas, '10, who has a B.S. in business, management and finance. The Brooklyn College program was coordinated by Honors Academy Liaison Robert Scott and the president's Chief of Staff Nicole Hosten-Haas.

More than 4,000 immigrant adults across the five boroughs have benefited from this program since it started in March 2010, and over 700 volunteers have been trained to lead the groups. The program is funded by a Federal Community Development Block Grant.

Back to BC News