The mission of the English as a Second Language (ESL) program is to improve the lives and opportunities of any Sussex County, Delaware non-native English speaker resident adult and family by offering affordable English language instruction in a safe environment and providing childcare services to enable parents, especially mothers, to attend. Secondarily, the ESL program offers information and programs designed to help these non-native English speakers to assimilate to their new home and culture.
In 2003, our congregation became aware of the need for an ESL program to serve the residents of Eastern Sussex County. We spent that year securing funding, studying other successful ESL programs and building excitement for this ministry within our congregation. English classes began in January 2004 at the church, and over the years, have been supplemented at various times by health fair activities, seminars/workshops on immigration and taxes, workshops, as well as programs about vital community resources. In addition, the program has periodically offered pre-GED classes, citizenship classes, and basic computer classes. Individual students often receive help, as needed, with supplemental food, housing, solving utility issues, obtaining a driver license, immigration information and referrals for medical problems.
After starting with two teachers, a handful of church volunteers and 45 students, the program now averages 150 to 200 students a year. While the students represent over 20 countries, most use Spanish as their first language. Students are assisted by more than 40 volunteer teachers who come from all backgrounds, e.g., teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers. Most are now retired, and many do not have a teaching background. Learning levels are structured from beginner to advanced. At higher levels, writing and speech are emphasized. Some teachers provide extra tutoring and/or act as conversation partners. Prospective students are interviewed during registration periods to determine their placement level. The interview consists of verbal and writing placement tests to determine the student’s current capability with English. The students are placed in one of four levels and select the morning and/or evening sessions. .
When classes are held on site, child care is offered at no cost so that parents are able to attend classes. Our child care program provides a learning environment for the children. In addition, it holds a yearly book fair for children.
The program is supported by the Church and funded by grants from a number of local and regional organizations, including the Arsht-Cannon Fund, Longwood Foundation, Harry K. Foundation, and SoDel Cares, as well as with donations from individuals and businesses.