It’s About Community at OIHS’s Parent ESL Classes, and Learning How to Use Zoom
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
A big part of distance learning in 2020 is mastering Zoom, the team video communications app used by most schools and many businesses in this new age of work and learn from home. Or at least becoming sufficient enough with computer technology and the app so that one can attend and participate in classes.
It’s also about community, and Oakland International High School’s (OIHS) Parent English as a Second Language (ESL) Classes embrace that. Community because the ESL classes, part of the ACE Learning Center at OIHS, are open to all in the Oakland community, not just parents of students attending the high school. Community because the Learning Center classes are in partnership with Refugee and Immigrant Transitions (RIT) that provides services to refugees and immigrants in the Bay Area. Community because the classes support the many languages spoken by the adult students. Community because the staff works hard to meet the challenges of providing ESL classes to parents with jobs and/or with children who are also learning online, have babysitting needs or have no or little access to the technology needed to attend online classes.
Mostly community because the teacher and the students of these Parent ESL classes become friends and supporters of each other, working hard to make the class be a success for each person and a safe place.
Last March when shelter in place started it was hard to get parent students the needed computers and internet access, but the school got it done. Then students had to download and install Zoom and learn how to use it, so there were bilingual tech support calls until Zoom became the norm.
“It was impressive to see parents in classes dealing with brand new, unchartered territory,” said Sonia Wong, Education Manager at RIT. “But they showed up and got online to learn English. It was a real sense of community.”
There are two levels of classes in the Parent ESL program, both taught by Cara Lazarus, RIT Adult English Language Instructor. Class 1 focuses on English for where parents need to use it most – work, their children’s school experiences, health care, etc. What does one say when calling school to say your child will be absent or discuss and understand issues at parent/teacher conferences? How does one ask key questions at work and comprehend the answers? Understand the air quality index and instructions for wearing a mask and social distancing? What are the symptoms of Covid-19 and what to do about them? How to manage job applications, the DMV and what to do if one is pulled over by police while driving. Even basics like who to contact and the vocabulary needed if the phone dies.
Class 2 is for parents that know zero English. The focus is on words and phrases, key letters and listening for words and speaking. Their goal is to learn enough English to move up to Class 1.
There are challenges for these classes such as holding the class at a time that works for working parents or to accommodate parents who provide childcare. But the successes are huge.
“Online classes have a silver lining,” said Wong. “There is no transport barrier to come to OIHS for the classes, no childcare barrier and less of a work schedule barrier so we have gotten more parents attending. We average 10 students per class, which is great.”
Plus, the parent students are working hard to succeed and are open about what they want or need.
“Not only are the students and teacher classmates, but they are friends,” said Wong.
Stay tuned for stories from some of the parents attending OIHS’s Learning Center Parent ESL Classes in future ACE Spectrum blogs.