Civic Scholar Creates ESL Course for Camden Parents

Madison Rogers has never been one to stand idly by. It was then no surprise when the Rutgers–Camden Civic Scholar spent this past summer working as an education ambassador for Ignite, a six-week program for students grades 4 through 8 from North Camden schools offered on the Rutgers–Camden campus. But her work wouldn’t end there.

As Rogers recalls, she learned time and again that the parents of her students primarily spoke Spanish, but had difficulty understanding English. Realizing the need, the double major in Spanish and English looked around the city for opportunities to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). It would serve a vital purpose, she thought, while giving her a jumpstart on her career goal. Much to her surprise, her search was in vain.

“I was amazed that, although there is a substantial Latino and Spanish-speaking population in Camden, there aren’t many organizations offering these services,” recalls the Collingswood resident.

So rather than wait for the right opportunity to come along, Rogers decided to create one.

Since late October, Rogers, along with fellow Rutgers students, Andrew Tyler Moorhouse, Sami Saraczewska, and Edily Santos, have been teaching an ESL course for parents whose children attend afterschool programs at Rafael Cordero (R.C.) Molina Elementary School, Coopers Poynt, and Pyne Poynt. Rutgers–Camden partners with the schools in the Rutgers-North Camden Schools Partnership, funded with a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

The class, which meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour, currently focuses on improving vocabulary for everyday living, such as food, household items, and descriptions of people. With a “living, breathing,” schedule, Rogers would like to expand the curriculum to help parents complete their personal goals, such as filling out job applications or, in some instances, applying for U.S. citizenship. “I want to make sure that this experience is something really worthwhile in their lives,” she says.

The classes are progressing quickly, Rogers reports, but she is amazed at the parents’ preparation, growth, and consistent dedication. “It’s incredible to see how much they are learning,” she says.  “They aren’t getting graded, so it’s really just their sheer determination and desire to learn.”

The course has been a wonderful and beneficial experience for the parents thus far, says Evelyn Pagan, community school coordinator for R.C. Molina. “I have certainly seen improvement in their speaking skills, and it has started closing up the barriers that were there in the beginning of the year,” says Pagan. “It has given them more confidence to express themselves. I hope it continues.”

The program’s success is perhaps best summed up in the words of one parent, Martha Sevilla, who said simply, “I am learning.”

While the course was initially offered to parents at R.C. Molina Elementary School in Camden, it is now available to parents at any North Camden schools. Through word of mouth, attendance has quickly doubled from three to six parents. “That’s probably the best feedback we could have gotten,” says Rogers. “It means that they are getting value out of these classes.”

As Rogers recalls, she designed the course by reviewing available curriculum, consulting with Rutgers faculty, and drafting a tentative outline with Pagan and Gayle Christiansen, program coordinator for the Rutgers–North Camden Schools Partnership. She then recruited her fellow students, who, she notes, have contributed greatly to the planning and instruction.

Every step of the way, Rogers strived to ensure that the program has the necessary structure, resources, and networks in place in order for it to flourish for years to come. “I can’t wait to see where we are in June,” says Rogers, who hopes to study abroad in Chile next year. “This is a great first step to all the good that can come out of this initiative.”

According to Rogers, the success of the program is also a clear indication of Rutgers–Camden’s ability to address needs in Camden by utilizing available resources and personnel. “It shows that it is possible to fill in the gaps with the resources that we have here instead of starting new programs from scratch,” she says. “They’re already here; we just need to organize them and put them to use.”

Reflecting on her own achievement, Rogers is grateful for the opportunity to create and carry out an initiative that has the potential to impact so many families in the city. The experience has given her a unique opportunity to develop her creativity, along with her teaching and professional skills – even when things haven’t always gone as planned.

“Some ideas work beautifully on paper, but don’t work out that way in the classroom,” explains Rogers, who plans to work as an ESL teacher in the nonprofit sector. “It’s great to be able to hone in on these things while I’m still a student, rather than as a teacher just beginning my career.”

Tom McLaughlin
856-225-6545
thomas.mclaughlin@camden.rutgers.edu

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