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English Center helps immigrants overcome language barrier

Published: Sat, October 6, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.




The English Center means more than just the new opportunities learning the language affords students.

“It’s like a family,” said

Marcia Kennedy of Cortland, who came to the United States six years ago from Brazil.

Kennedy, who worked for Swiss Airlines, knew some English when she came to this country after meeting her husband, an American, via the Internet.

Still, the difference between her English before she started classes at the center, housed in John Knox Church on Market Street, and three years later is “night and day,” she said.

Kennedy is one of 80 students from more than 30 countries learning English at the center.

The English Center started in 1986 after the former International Institute closed in the city. Leslie Kiske and Bobbi Grinstein, two teachers from the institute, didn’t want to see the program end, leaving students without an alternative. They secured space and founded the English Center. First it was housed in space inside of a company. It moved to two other churches before John Knox.

Students come into the center at all levels of English proficiency.

Most of the teachers aren’t bilingual. They rely on creativity to lead their students.

“You have to be very animated,” Kiske said.

“You have to be an actress,” added Grinstein.

To teach students the word for egg, for example, Grinstein clucks like a chicken and acts as if she’s laid one. To emphasize the importance of “S” in plurals and tenses, she’s drawn the letter on her forehead.

“We teach through immersion,” Kiske said. “In class, we speak only English.”

Students are permitted to converse in their native tongues during breaks, but the founders say students mingle despite their language differences.

The center is an affiliate of the city schools’ Adult Basic Literacy Education and also receives funding from the International Institute Fund of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

It’s a passion for the two founders as well as for the teachers and office personnel who work there.

“We learn as much from them as they do from us,” Kiske said.

“More,” Grinstein added.

They learn about the culture of their students as well as their individual challenges and struggles. Students enrolled hail from Puerto Rico, France, Morocco, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Iran, China, Korea, Columbia, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, Vietnam, Thailand and India. The center also offers a citizenship course.

Adam Hajbane moved to New York City from Morocco in February 2009. He learned some English there, but after about a year, he was chatting online with someone who told him about Youngstown and its low cost of living. He decided to move. He learned about the English Center from a friend and began taking classes.

Adam works overnight, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., at a gas station, goes home to sleep for an hour and comes to class at 9:30 a.m. three days per week.

Classes at the center run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday from September through June. There is no charge to students.

Adelina Rodriguez, originally from Mexico, moved to the city with her husband about 10 years ago.

“It was hard because I have no relatives here, just my husband and my son,” she said.

Small tasks such as going to the grocery store were challenging without more of a grasp of the language. She began taking classes at the English Center about three years ago.

“I feel like my eyes have been opened,” Rodriguez said.

Yeni Cruz, a native of Honduras, started taking classes to broaden her job prospects. She works as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant and wouldn’t be able to communicate with customers if she didn’t speak English.

Jenne Bruner came to Warren from Russia in 2003 when she married a man from that city. She enrolled at the center about five years ago. Improving her English skills has helped her fit in.

“I can talk to people. I can read the paper, watch television,” Bruner said. “I feel safer because my English has improved.”

Kennedy, the Cortland resident from Brazil, wants to continue studying English at Youngstown State University. She said the skills she’s learned at the center have been invaluable.

“It’s freedom,” Kennedy said.


1IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

We still have time to get them registered to vote!!

Bin Laden is DEAD!!
The US is OUT of IRAQ!!
Unemployment is DOWN!!
The stock market is UP!!


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2redeye1(5657 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

IM Maybe you should have stayed in bed. Since you still don't know the facts, 1) we are stiil IN IRAQ, 2) The ONLY reason unemployment is down is because the benefits have run out for many who are NO longer counted. 3) Gas prices are way UP! (DOUBLED) in less then 3yrs. WOW! so that means everything else is way up. Most people aren't into the stock market so that doesn't mean a damn thing to them. But it could crash at anytime. So what you have said is nothing but D party BS.

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3iBuck(231 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

Average duration of unemployment is 42.5 weeks, median 21.4 weeks.
Median duration of employment in 2012 January was reported September 19 as 4.6 years= about 54 months = about 240 weeks (4.7 years for men, 4.6 years for women).
Quoting BLS: "Among men, [only] 30% of wage and salary workers had 10 years or more of tenure with their current employer; among women, the figure was 28%". For comparison, the initial duration of an H-1B "temporary" guest-work visa is 3 years, renewable for an additional 3 years, and extensible on a year-by-year basis after that.

Employment/population ratio 58.8%,
73% for those with at least a bachelor's degree (down from 74.4% at beginning of Obummer admin, 79% at end of GHWBush admin).
Employment/population ratio for non-natives 60.9%, for natives 58.4%.

Unemployment rate for those seeking full-time work 8%; for those seeking part-time work 5.7%.

Civilian, non-institutionalized population of working age 243.7 million, 15.6% foreign-born, 84.4% native.
Civilian labor force 155 million.
Employed 143.3 million.
Unemployed and actively seeking work 11.7 million.
"Not in labor force" 88.7 million.
Jobs deficit about 29.5 million.


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4WilliamSwinger(341 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

"...Battleground Poll has Mitt Romney massacring Obama among indies by a whopping 16 points, 51-35..."


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5WilliamSwinger(341 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

-Al Qaeda is ALIVE
-US Ambassador is DEAD
-47 million on FOOD STAMPS
-16.2 trillion dollars in DEBT
-Gasoline prices up 400%
-Grocery prices up 15%
-Income down 8.2%
-MILLIONS left the labor force
-43 months of 8%+ unemployment
-Are YOU better off now than four years ago?


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