A look into the agency’s ESL Program

ESL graduates pose for picture. Francesca Phillis pictured front right, Rodolfo De Leon pictured to her left, and Karamjeet Leti Singh pictured in red cap.

For several years now, Santa Maria Community Services has offered ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to help members of the community better their English skills. The classes include a diverse group of students from Guatemala, India, Mali, Senegal and more, and provide individuals with the ability to better communicate with their peers while having access to more jobs in the area. Three different levels are available to students based off their English abilities. Within these levels, students learn to use pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and conversational skills.

During ESL class time Santa Maria offers a Youth Enrichment Program (YEP) for children of the ESL students. This program invites youth ages 3-10 to participate in activities while their parents attend classes. Previous activities of the YEP program have included “Outdoor Time” with IMAGO and craft time with the Cincinnati Art Museum, among others. At the end of the program, ESL participants who graduate or advance to the next level are awarded with a certificate recognizing the hard work they have dedicated to the program.

This May, 64 students graduated within or out of the ESL program. Graduating is a significant accomplishment to participants mainly because of the challenges they face along the way. “One obstacle many students face is their education level,” says Francesca Phillis, Santa Maria ESL Coach. “A lot of the students have only completed a 6th grade education level or below, if they obtained any formal education at all. This results into more challenges for students who are trying to develop their literacy skills. So, it is really rewarding for those students who may have never been to school before, to be able to read and write, even if it’s only a little bit.” Recognizing their hard work and the dedication they have put into their classes while balancing their life outside the program is important to Santa Maria. To celebrate, Santa Maria hosts an awards ceremony and potluck dinner each year. During the ceremony, students are recognized for their achievements including participation, most improved, and best attendance.

Two students who graduated this May include Karamjeet Leti Singh and Rodolfo De Leon. Karamjeet came from India and joined the program to advance his English-speaking skills in hopes of finding better employment, while Rodolfo who came from Guatemala joined the program to better communicate with his family and friends. Both men migrated to America to better themselves and their family’s lives. They are both married with three children, each with two boys and one girl, and both of their children are enrolled in the Youth Enrichment Program. Karamjeet’s wife, Daljit Kaur, and Rodolfo’s wife, Maria Pablo Lopez, were also participants of the ESL program. Both students have shown a tremendous amount of dedication and enthusiasm for the program and each have earned an award for their hard work. Karamjeet earned Most Improved and Rodolfo earned Most Improved and Best Attendance. “I really enjoyed English classes,” says Karamjeet. “The classes were excellent,” adds Rodolfo. “I learned a lot and my favorite activities were the phonics lesson and learning how to write numbers.”

The ESL program has helped families improve parts of their lives that will help them gain access to more opportunities in their communities. Students involved in ESL are able to navigate their communities more easily by conversing with people in everyday locations like grocery stores, community centers, and in the workplace. Many students join ESL because they want to build on their skills for future jobs. English also helps students become more involved in their kids’ lives because they are able to read to them, help them with homework, and understand what’s going on with them at school.

Santa Maria is excited to announce the transition of its ESL and YEP programs to Holy Family Church. The new location will allow Santa Maria to better serve the church’s growing Hispanic population and provide easier access to Santa Maria’s East Price Hill services. “The move to Holy Family will be better for many of our students who live in the Price Hill area because it is much closer and within walking distance,” says Francesca. “The school itself is more spacious for both the YEP and ESL program; the kids will have more room to play, and we can have more students in a classroom for the ESL classes.” Santa Maria looks forward to starting ESL classes this September.