Since 2014, Educational Alliance 2-Generation program has been in collaboration with the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and CUNY, in order to provide free multi-leveled English classes to families in the Lower East Side. So far, we have served 380 students, many of whom are immigrant parents and caregivers pursuing their professional and educational goals through the support of ESOL classes. For our ESOL families, English classes are not only a space to enhance language skills, but a community for families to build confidence, connections, and be a great example for their children. We are excited to share two stories from our current ESOL students who have had great achievements in their educational, professional and advocacy pursuits with the support of our ESOL class.
Karla Zelaya came to the United States from El Salvador when she was 18 years old. She left behind her roots and the life that she knew. The first couple of years in America, everything was difficult. She felt lost as she did not speak English. Everything was foreign. Her options were limited. Her female relatives all told her to become a “cleaning lady” like them to help the family financially. She conceded and started working at a young age.
Karla’s childhood dream was to go to college, a pathway out of poverty. She was an excellent student, but when she was in 9th grade her parents told her they were no longer able to afford to send her to school – with eight other siblings the cost had become too much. For years she resented her parents and her life circumstances, and cried at the thought of not being able to pursue her education.
Her luck changed when she enrolled her youngest son at the Educational Alliance Early Childhood Program. The school, in collaboration with the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), offers a two-generation program that combines the Alliance’s well-established early childhood programs with adult education for parents and wrap-around social services to strengthen entire families.
Karla first enrolled in ESOL classes and has progressed to High School Equivalency (formerly known as GED) class and passed the test. She is currently a BMCC honor student and will be completing her Associate degree in the Fall of 2020.
In addition to enrolling in High School Equivalency classes she has also attended active parenting classes, family literacy, and financial education classes. She has overcome many personal struggles but has never lost sight of her own hope of going to college. She wants to better herself so she can set good examples for her children. Karla is very active in her children’s and her own education. All her children in return are excelling in school.
Sherry immigrated to the United States in the year 1998. “I barely knew the English alphabet at that time.” She said. Sherry lives in a large family. Her 2 sons, 1 daughter and 4 grandchildren used to/currently study in Educational Alliance. Sherry herself has been enrolled in the Adult ESOL Program since the year 2017. She started at level 1. And she moved up to level 2 in 2 years.
“Life had been very hard for me when I first arrived in America,” Sherry said. “I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant. My job is to watch the fryer and rice maker. And I had to do all the work that other people didn’t want to do.”
Sherry got burned by the hot oil and injured during work all the time. “I cried a lot during my breaks. I felt that I’ve cried out all my tears.” She said.
Sherry believed that the best job in a restaurant must be the hostess. “I asked my manager if I could be the hostess. He told me that English language skill was necessary for this position. Then, I decided to start learning English.”
Now, Sherry has been working as a restaurant hostess/cashier for several years. She’s very happy with the job. “I even received more tips since I can start a conversation with my customer!”
Learning English in our Adult ESOL Program not only brings Sherry a better career opportunity but also shows her more possibilities. She was invited to a college tour facilitated by the 2-Generation staffs in Educational Alliance. “I can’t believe that one day in my life, I can actually walk on a college campus.” She said. “College used to be only a dream for me. But now the ESOL Program tells me that it can be more than just a dream.”
Sherry also mentioned that being able to speak English greatly boosts her confidence. “I’m more independent and confident now. I can solve my own problems, talk to more people, and even help others who don’t know English.” Sherry was one of the three leaders of a parade that protested the unreasonable rental eviction. “I’ve realized that if I didn’t do something, we would all lose our homes.” She said that her English teacher had been very supportive. “I missed my class that day but she still counted my attendance. She also gave me many great pieces of advice on the language and patiently answered all my questions.”
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