Students Teach Students and Reduce ESOL Waiting Lists

Six Harvard College students tapped into their community to help new immigrants in a really big way. 

For over a hundred years, Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), a student-run organization, has provided programming throughout Boston, Massachusetts, that meets a number of community needs. Each year, 1,500 student volunteers help run over 80 social service and social action programs. 

For their inaugural PBHA Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, six students taught English to hundreds of new residents of Boston. Inspired by his parents who immigrated to the U.S. from China 30 years ago and attended local ESOL classes, Jesper Ke, one of the involved students, wanted to pay it forward to the hundreds of people who immigrate to the area every year. He wanted to make it easier for them to transition into their new lives, especially those who didn’t have the resources to do it themselves.

According to city figures, over a quarter of Boston’s residents are immigrants, and nearly half of the children in Boston have at least one parent who is an immigrant to the U.S. “Boston has always been a city of immigrants,’’ said Alejandra St. Guillen, director of the city’s Office of New Bostonians. “You can’t find a place in Boston that doesn’t have a growing immigrant population.’’

Because of this, the city needs programs like PBHA Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages and volunteers to spearhead its growth. According to Boston Redevelopment Authority statistics, more than 4,000 individuals are on a waitlists for classes in Boston alone.

With the help of various community partners, including St. Mark Community Education Program, the students’ summer PBHA program served approximately 300 low-income immigrant learners on a weekly basis in just one month. The free classes were offered in Chinatown, Dorchester, and Chelsea. “We established relationships with over 10 community partners through phone calls and in-person meetings, designing the weekly class structure, hiring staff, and identifying curriculum and assessment methods,” Ke said.

Both St. Mark and PBHA were so pleased with the program’s success they want to continue the partnerships and offer the same courses next summer.
Programs like these are essential to help immigrants transition into their new lives in the U.S. and reduce class waiting lists. Language barriers cause great challenges for individuals new to this country, including securing a home or job, getting medical treatment or financial assistance, and supporting a family. 

Impacting Adult Literacy Through Volunteers

Students can teach students. If your adult literacy program is looking for volunteers, check out local colleges and see what kind of partnerships you can build for these learners. Through local partnerships and togetherness, you, too, can increase your impact the way these six Harvard College students did.


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