Connecting Adult ELLs to Supportive College Resources

As many TESOL members head back to the classroom for the fall semester, I wanted to share what I learned from some work I did recently for the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education (CCCIE), a national network of community colleges focused on improving educational and career opportunities for immigrant students.

Last spring, CCCIE (which is based at SUNY Westchester Community College, in Valhalla NY, where I teach) asked me to research and write an “issue brief” outlining some simple steps that ESL instructors can take to help connect their immigrant students to supportive resources available on the wider community college campus.  As those of you who teach in a community college setting already know, many adult immigrant ELLs take their first step toward realizing their American dream by enrolling in ESL classes at their local community college.

Yet for many of these students, the broader community college campus and the world beyond remain a puzzling enigma. Despite the mushrooming of campus resources and services designed to promote the academic, personal, and professional success of all students—academic support centers, writing centers, career services offices, student clubs, peer mentoring programs, and antipoverty programs like Single Stop USA—immigrant ESL students who stand the most to gain from these services are often unaware that these programs exist.

A new CCCIE issue brief entitled “Connecting English Language Learners to Supportive Community College Resources” offers seven simple steps that ESL instructors and their departments can take to help speed their students’ progress toward their dream of attending college in the United States and landing a better job.  Here are a few of these steps:

Integrate ESL students into the wider community college campus from the day they first register for ESL classes:At South Texas College, for instance, students who register for ESL classes are told from the outset that “they are STC students and that they have access to all services provided by STC, namely, library, Center for Learning Excellence (tutoring), advising, counseling, and other support services.”

Encourage intermediate and advanced ESL students to sign up for campus tours run by the admissions office or lead your own tours: At Hostos Community College in the Bronx, NY, for example, ESL instructors in the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) lead tours that introduce students to the Single Stop Center, student clubs, the writing center, athletic facilities, library, student success coach center, and baby-sitting service for day-time student-parents. At Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, ESL instructors not only lead tours of the campus library, tutoring center, and language lab, but strongly encourage their use and may even award “extra credit” to students who make use of some of the resources showcased on the tours.

Invite guest speakers from the college into the ESL classroom:One sure-fire way to ensure that ESL students learn about supportive campus resources is to invite someone from other areas of the college into the ESL classroom as a guest speaker during one of the ESL class periods.   This has the twin benefits of not only providing first-hand information directly to the ESL students, but also gives them additional, authentic English speaking and listening practice. At Westchester Community College (WCC), staff from the Single Stop office (a national nonprofit organization that offers a variety of free social services) have made themselves available as guest speakers in my ESL classes, simplifying some of their handouts to meet the needs of low-intermediate English speakers. Members of the WCC student honors society have made guest appearances in upper-level ESL classes to offer their services as peer mentors to ESL students interested in applying to college in the United States.

Encourage ESL students to join student clubs:One way to break down the unintended barriers that separate many adult ELLs from the rest of the campus is for their ESL instructor to actively encourage them to join student clubs, where they can meet local students and become more engaged with the rest of the campus. The faculty who advise student clubs can be a rich source of connections and informal mentoring for ESL students looking to expand their network of contacts and gain a professional foothold in the United States.

I invite all of you to check out the full issue brief and to subscribe to CCCIE’s free e-newsletter to keep abreast of news, resources, and promising practices in the field of immigrant education.

What are you currently doing to help connect your adult ELLs to supportive college resources?





About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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