ESL program helps build success, community

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published January 11, 2022

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FARMINGTON HILLS — For some people who move to the United States from other countries, two of the biggest challenges are learning to speak English and gaining an understanding of the culture.

One place people can find assistance locally is the Farmington Adult English as a Second Language program.

The program’s goals are to help ESL students improve their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, and to “develop real-life skills for success in the community.”

There are also offerings for career training education.

Suzanne Nicholson is the Farmington Adult ESL and career training education program manager and a teacher. She discussed some of the primary advantages of the program.

“First of all, to the students, it helps them to improve their daily (lives) here in the United States,” Nicholson said. “It helps the community as well because then they’re able to go to other businesses and communicate better so they can bring their business to that community. And then several of our students have children in our K-12 schools, so they’re able to communicate with the teachers, and it improves that language barrier there.”

Funding for the ESL program comes from federal and state grants.

A fee isn’t required to be part of the program, including for books, but students can pay a $25 donation fee if they choose.

Nicholson is in her sixth year with the program. She earned a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Madonna University.

According to information she provided, from September 2016-September 2021 students enrolled in the program have been from 52 countries spanning five continents.

Nicholson thinks the program has been around at least 26 years.

Empathy can play a big role in successfully teaching an ESL course.

“We try to help improve their daily living so that they can have a more fulfilling life here,” Nicholson said. “I think about it if I were in their shoes, I went to their country and I didn’t know their language very well. How would I live? And so we try to be the person here who’s helping all of them.”

David Reese is the director of the Farmington Adult ESL program and the principal of Farmington Central High School. He shared one of his favorite aspects of the ESL program.

“Seeing the diverse community that we serve coming together, getting (the) opportunity to work and improve themselves, and being able to participate in their opportunity to be lifelong learners,” Reese said. “I think that’s the most rewarding part.”

Reese, who noted the “dedication” of the ESL staff, also mentioned the employability skills that can come with being part of the program.

He discussed what he considers to be the most important aspects of the program.

“No. 1, the relationship component,” Reese said. “But then being a part of helping individuals from the community reach their goals, either just personally working on their own obtainment of the language, and the additional support, as far as helping them with their work anxiety and conquering their fears, as far as with language barriers entering the workforce.”

Nicholson shared part of the program’s approach.

“When I was growing up, you pretty much had teachers and a red pen. You sat facing forward. You didn’t talk, and this is the way it was, and the only way it was. Here in our program, we encourage students to talk and communicate,” she said. “We have them talking as soon as they get in the door and we have our mini-lessons, which are about 20 minutes long, but then we get the students engaged in their own learning. The more mistakes the better, because we learn from our mistakes. Otherwise, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t need a teacher.”

As part of the program, Nicholson said, “We also teach computer literacy along the way.”

The program has two semesters, with one going from September-January, and the other from January-May.

The daytime Farmington Adult ESL program is held 9 a.m.-noon Mondays-Thursdays, with the evening program taking place 6-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays.

A childcare program is also offered.

The classes are held at Farmington Central High School in Farmington Hills.

To register for the ESL program, send an email to lynne.opasik@fpsk12.net or call (248) 489-3827. For more information, visit farmington.k12.mi.us/adult-esl.

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