Community Learning

Community Learning

A Different Kind of ESL Class

The Loudoun County Community Services Board’s prevention team leads two after-school programs in Leesburg.

Prevention specialist Conte Yates works in Loudoun County schools, such as Simpson and Sterling middle schools, during the day, and at the Fields of Leesburg apartments, in Leesburg, after school.

"All of the kids live in Fields [of Leesburg Apartments] or close to it," Yates said. "The kids come on a volunteer basis."

From 3 to 5 p.m., Yates helps elementary-, middle- and high-school students with their homework. When students are done with their assignments, they can go home. For some students, home is right next door or just a block away.

"We usually get 20 or 25 kids a day," he said. "Most of the students are Hispanic."

The Loudoun County Community Services Board After School Program teamed up with La Voz, a nonprofit organization that acts as a conduit between the Hispanic and immigrant populations, government agencies and family services. In addition to the after-school program, La Voz has added an English as a Second Language (ESL) and parenting classes component to the Field’s program.

ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, Hispanic immigrants separated themselves into three groups, beginner, intermediate and advanced students. Parents scurried children into the back room of the basement apartment.

La Voz president Laura Valle said the ESL and parenting classes provide recent immigrants with a sense of community.

"There are a lot of ESL classes out there and they’re all important," Valle said. "I see this as something much more because we’re serving the whole family."

After about an hour, students and children wandered into the kitchen for pizza and soda. Prevention specialist for at-risk youth Melanie Myers checked on a cake baking in the oven.

Volunteer teacher, La Voz member and Fields of Leesburg Apartments neighbor Angie Goetz fed her daughter during the break.

"It can be hard for parents to get to class at dinnertime," she said. "Now, they have no excuse. They can bring their kids too. I do."

After dinner, students return to their classes and children return to the back room to finish a movie.

Leesburg Elementary School teacher and volunteer Gisele Gil reads out of "If… Questions for the Game of Life."

"Do you think a college degree is necessary to get a job," Gil asked her advanced students.

Maria Medrano thought about the question for a moment.

"I think so. Yes," she said.

The mother of three recently moved from Zacatecas, Mexico, to Leesburg.

"I come here to learn English. To understand better and to talk to understand my daughter’s teachers," she said.

OTHER LOUDOUN COUNTY Public Schools have heard of the success of the unique program.

"We would like to be in all the schools, but we just don’t have the staff for that," said Loudoun County Department of Mental Health’s Judith Romberg.

With the help of La Voz, Valle and other volunteers are applying for grants to staff positions to aid Sterling schools.

In September, the After School Program will branch out to Potomac Falls High School.

"We will have an after-school program and ESL and parenting classes there twice a week," Valle said. "There is such a need in Sterling, in Loudoun. We hope to get more money and get bigger and bigger."