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article imageNorth Carolina college ESL department changing lives Special

By Jerell Cuevas     Apr 27, 2010 in World
Charlotte - It is 6 p.m. on a Thursday at Central Piedmont Community College’s Central Campus. The uptown grounds appear dead, except for room 314 of the Kratt building.
Greg Walters stands before a group of adults in the Kratt building. The classroom resembles that of a 20th Century high school. The walls are covered with dirty chalkboards, maps of the world and United States, and fliers.
An overhead projector sits in the front left corner. A TV and VCR hang silently from the ceiling. Behind that VCR is where Walters hides his pack of chalk.
Class starts with a review of last night’s assignment to read chapter seven of “Kira-Kira.” The book is about two children of Japanese immigrants growing up in Georgia. Walters writes “swamp” on the board.
Here, the students don’t raise their hands or wait patiently for the instructor’s attention. They ask questions and call out answers as Walters reads aloud passages from chapter seven.
Unlike in American public schools, speaking out of turn is encouraged here. This classroom is a place for them to learn how to do just that, speak.
Walters teaches this diverse group of immigrants how to speak English. He is one of two full-time instructors working in the Adult English as a Second Language program at CPCC.
Walters, who has a master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, has worked at CPCC for seven years. He has taught English for 14 years. His previous teaching stints included New Hampshire, Thailand, Japan, a Chinese university and the State Department of Oman.
Adult ESL is a non-tuition based program for adult immigrants residing in Mecklenburg County, according to the ESL website. The program consists of six levels of instruction: ESL Beginner Literacy, ESL Beginner, ESL Intermediate Low, ESL Intermediate High, ESL Advanced Low, and ESL Advanced High.
According to Laura Bahmanyar, ESL coordinator, the program requires students to attend 12 hours of classes per week. Once a student reaches 40 hours, he/she is permitted to test. If the student meets the required score, he/she can move on to the next level.
Bahmanyar states the goal is for the students to take each level twice. Bahmanyar, who also has a master’s in TESOL, describes her staff as “de facto academic advisers” to the students.
Bahmanyar also says the program allows students to participate in more ways than the traditional classroom setting. There are the ESL Labs, online, and “Crossroads Café.”
Walters’ night class of 31 consists of mostly Spanish-speaking individuals. There is one Cambodian, one Vietnamese and one French-speaking immigrant, along with two Russians.
One of the two Russian immigrants is Anastasia Kostolomova. She is 21 and migrated from the eastern Russian city of Blagoveshensk a year ago, 15 minutes from the Russia-China border. Kostolomova is in the middle of her second semester at CPCC and describes Walters as the “best teacher in the department.”
She is not fluent in English but believes the ESL classes are very helpful. She also carries a Russian-English dictionary with her.
Kostolomova is one example of the thousands of immigrants who have participated in the ESL program at CPCC. In the fall semester of 2009, there were approximately 1,400 students.
In this particular classroom, the desks are organized into groups of four to encourage speaking among the students, Walters said. At each group, there is at least one non-Spanish speaking student. Walters allows his students to summarize and practice the skills they learn in these self-titled “literature circles.”
It is 8 p.m. and time for a break. Some students head out of the classroom to make telephone calls or grab a snack from the vending machine. Kostolomova stays in to show Walters where Blagoveshensk is located on the world map.
Walters stares in amazement at the distance she has traveled. It is at this point where it appears the most that the ESL department has achieved its goal.
More about English, Immigrants, Charlotte, Central piedmont community college
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