October 27, 2014

How Much We All Share

by Molly Sandstrom

Molly Sandstrom '17 is a Community Fellow for the MET Family Literacy Program.

Children, college students, and adults of mixed ages from places like Guatemala, Florida, Cambodia, and Minnesota gather twice a week to learn with and from each other at the MET High School in Providence. Some have lived in Rhode Island for decades, others only a handful of months. There are as many differences as similarities in the room, but everyone can come together over macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, or rice and beans. Bursts of laughter occasionally interrupt the various conversations filling the room, as one small boy plays a prank and a student acts out a sports game play-by-play.

The MET Family Literacy Program offers ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes to adult immigrants in the MET’s catchment area. Some adult learners return to the program over several semesters, some Brown students stay just as long. Over the months and years connections are made and friendships form.  This is only be second semester with the program, and already I experience such joy when one of my former learners walks through the door. The program is designed to be accessible to all who are interested, and newcomers are welcome as we bring together a diverse group of student volunteers and adult learners.

At 6:00 everyone begins to move to classrooms scattered throughout the building. Classes are driven by learners’ needs, strengths, interests and abilities. We use authentic materials (such as supermarket ads, utility bills, and newspapers, in order to engage learners with reading they may experience everyday) and approaches – listening to learners, finding out where they use English in their daily lives, for what purposes and in what contexts – to design and deliver classes that engage them in using all four skills areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Each class is unique, and listening in I can overhear music, skits, and games.

With many differences between our learners and our volunteers I often consider their similarities, and what brings us all together night after night. Adult learners come to the program to acquire and strengthen language skills, perhaps to communicate more effectively at work, or to interact with a child's teacher with greater ease. Some come to build confidence to interact with neighbors, co-workers, medical providers and others in the community, some to try structured learning for the first time in a new country.  No matter their level of English, they share a desire to learn, and eagerness to grow.

Equally passionate are our Brown volunteers, who, energized by their work, buzz with conversation and ideas as they climb onto the bus. On the ride home we like to take time to share a learning moment from the day, and I am always pleased to hear instances where the volunteers are learning from their students, about the culture of the Dominican Republic, about parenting, about the best restaurants in Providence, and overcoming difficulties.

As I sit and participate in our dinner time interactions, I notice how rare it is to be in a room filled with so many passionate and dedicated individuals, coming together after a long day for a meal and a lesson. Looking around we can all seem so different from each other, but if I look a little harder, it is easy to see how much we all share.

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