Cairn University’s School of Education invited the world to campus when they began offering free English lessons to adult learners. Taught by Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) students, these courses are offered weekly each Wednesday evening.
“I’m reaching people in my own neighborhood,” said Marika Ravin, assistant professor in the school of education and advisor of the TESOL program. Ravin has been teaching English to nonnative speakers since 2001 both domestically and abroad. “I passed out flyers on street corners and in stores while Mrs. Schrader distributed them all over lower Bucks county, and Mrs. Lao advertised in her church.” Mrs. Debbie Schrader and Mrs. Yesenia Lao are both academic assistants at the University in the School of Education and the School of Business and the School of Social Work respectively.
After spending several weeks advertising and praying for the classes, the program started with four students and has now doubled to eight. Before each class, the volunteer teachers make it a priority to pray for one another, the individuals coming to the classes, and the class as a whole. Ravin emphasized that God has been involved in the formation and execution of these classes—even before anyone knew that these classes would exist. “It’s His group; we are all blessed by it.”
The students have diverse experiences and backgrounds. Whether living in the United States for over 20 years or for just under two, these students are eager to refine their grammar and expand their vocabulary in their second language. With over eight volunteers to teach each week, the classroom environment allows for one-on-one mentoring. Homework assistance and tutoring are also offered to the children of the ESL students.
“What we’re offering is different than other ESL classes,” said Ravin. “I keep telling that to my TESOL students to give them confidence in their work each week. They have been working really hard to provide quality lessons for the students.” ESL courses can be extremely expensive, and they are often taught in large groups by one teacher. With the current student to mentor ratio, the adult learners in this program are able to practice English in the classroom with a native speaker. This dynamic pushes the students to speak English for the majority of their classroom time.
While the improvement of the students’ communication skills is the primary motivation in teaching the classes, the students are not the only ones benefiting. The teachers of these courses, who are primarily TESOL students of Cairn, are receiving real-life experience in what they learn in their own classrooms. The TESOL students rotate responsibilities in the classroom, each having experience in leading the night’s lesson or working one-on-one with the students. These classes are their initial exposure to the impact that they can make in their local communities through teaching English to those who are eager to learn.
“Overall, we just feel comfortable around each other,” said Ravin. “The teachers feel comfortable talking with the students, and the students are comfortable with answering questions and making mistakes. This environment is ideal for growth in communication and community. Everyone is needed and everyone is included. It’s a win-win.”