Learning a new language is always a challenge, but luckily for the workers at Pomona, there is the ESL Student/Worker Program. The program, now in its fourth year, pairs students with workers who are learning or improving their English as a second language and conversation skills, and it is run through Mortar Board, the senior honor society. Although the workers are the ones receiving instruction, students have found that being a tutor is instructive as well.
In order to become a tutor, students must undergo a training session that prepares them for what to expect and teaches them how to be effective resources for the workers. Considerations in pairing a student with a worker often include the experience level of the worker and how often they want to participate in sessions. Tutors will usually meet with workers for one to two hours a week. (TSL was unable to get in contact with any of the workers by press time.)
Michael O’Shea PO ’11 has been tutoring workers for several weeks now. During the sessions O’Shea allows the workers to choose the areas they would like to review, taking a flexible approach that allows time for anything workers might need help with.
“It’s about what they need so they can develop confidence,” he said. He has really enjoyed the experience, and said that he’s developed strong relationships with his students.
“I learn a lot from them,“ he added. “During the sessions I get a window into their lives so I would definitely say that it’s a great mutual relationship.”
Hannah McConnell PO ’12 also enjoys the relationship she has formed with her student, a Frank dining hall worker.
“We are finally starting to have basic conversations and I’m learning more about her. It’s a nice relationship to have,” said McConnell.
Although she’s only been tutoring for five weeks now, she hopes to continue next year as well.
“It’s a fun thing to do,” she said. “Hopefully it’s something I will continue to do while I’m at Pomona.”
So far, McConnell and her student have been going over vocabulary and basic conversational skills.
“I can see that she is making progress; we’re definitely taking baby steps though.”
While the program has had great success, it has also faced its own share of challenges. One of the most difficult parts of the program has been finding times when students and workers can meet, since many of the workers have non-traditional work hours. Students in the tutoring role have also faced challenges.
“Being a tutor really makes you think about how you should teach the material in a way that’s effective. It’s been a learning experience for me. I have to plan what we are going to go over for each lesson,” said McConnell.
It’s also difficult to replicate the consistency that college-level language classes depend upon. Program coordinator Joanne Tien PO ’09 said that in order for anyone to really learn English, they need to practice every day for an hour or two. Unfortunately, most students and workers are not able to find that much time in their schedules to meet every day or every other day.
In the future, Tien said she hopes that the program will have more resources, particularly the funding to hire a professional ESL professor to prepare students before they start to meet with workers. This year, the program has worked closely with the Worker’s Support Committee to find out what workers want and need out of their ESL experience.
“Workers who have been through the program believe that having a classroom environment would be more conducive to learning since they would feel more comfortable and would have more people to practice speaking English with. Based on this we have thought about making the program more institutionalized by setting up weekly classes,” explained Tien.
As the program works toward expansion, it will maintain its goal for students and workers—that both parties gain something beneficial from the relationship.