A group of University of Dallas students from the university’s St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP) recently saved an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at St. Luke Catholic Church in Irving, Texas from collapse.
Dr. Bernadette Waterman Ward, UD English professor and faculty sponsor of the SVDP, said that the Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) programs at St. Luke were in desperate need of teachers at the start of the semester in September.
“They had about 75 students signed up for English as a Second Language classes, and they needed about a half dozen volunteers to teach them,” Waterman Ward wrote in an email. “It looked like the program would have to close down.”
She decided to ask the SVDP for help.
Senior Joe Dougherty, juniors Christina Norton and Kim Zamora, and freshman Helen Trumble all volunteered to teach classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 with Waterman Ward.
Norton said that even though she was initially hesitant to teach, she came to love her time with the students.
“I am not going to lie — at first I did not really enjoy the classes and did not look forward to them,” Norton said. “I found the classes difficult to prepare for and teach in a way that engaged the students. But as time went on, I got the hang of it and now I am looking forward to the classes and enjoying them.”
A typical class begins with students learning vocabulary from pictures and the LIFT-provided textbooks. They then make sentences in English and analyze the grammar of those sentences.
Dr. Waterman Ward said her classes always come across hilarious things by the end of the night, mostly because of some sounds unique to English that non-English speakers find humorous and strange.
“They laugh and they laugh and it’s really wonderful,” Waterman Ward said.
Norton said that the students also play games to help them learn English.
“Lately, we have been playing the game ‘hangman’ which the students seem to really enjoy,” she said. “I do not think they had ever heard of this game and I believe they found it slightly humorous … They also enjoy games in which they are timed and that involve competition. These games are one of my favorite aspects of the lesson because the students are more engaged and I start to see their unique personalities, many of which include a good sense of humor.”
Norton said the students are all adults of varying ages.
“Some are my age and some are older and probably married and have families,” Norton said. “I believe all the students in our class are Hispanic, but the class is definitely open to anyone wanting to learn English.”
Waterman Ward said the classes aim to help the working poor.
“These are the people who get up at 4:30 in the morning so you can have your Starbucks at 7,” Waterman Ward said. “6:30 p.m. is late for them, but they hang in there because they want to learn English.”
Norton said the classes give her an opportunity to help students in their everyday lives in the U.S. by increasing their language skills.
“I think everyone agrees that ESL classes and teaching ESL classes are a good thing,” Norton said. “By doing so, we are helping the students improve their lives here in the U.S. Knowing the English language is really helpful, if not essential, for living here in the U.S. — and really knowing the native language of any country that you live in is important.”
Norton added that she has enjoyed her experiences interacting with the multicultural community in Irving.
“It has been a really cool experience for me to teach these classes,” Norton said. “I think Irving is a neat city because I get to observe how cultures mingle together. And teaching the ESL classes gives me an experience of this cultural mingling.”
Waterman Ward said that despite differences in culture, the students and teachers have an important common context: Catholicism.
“The Hispanic community is largely Catholic,” Waterman Ward said. “[There’s] solidarity between the poor, immigrant Church and the more established Church. We have a common religious culture … St. Luke’s is a gathering place [for that].”