Students and teachers both learn a lot in this program (photos)Monday, January 14, 2013 by: Rick McGee
Newcomers from distant lands often arrive in Sault Ste. Marie with substantial educational backgrounds but limited English skills.
And while different reasons bring recent arrivals here, many share a common goal.
Like Karolina Tejena (left) and Hamad Aljafer above, they want to become proficient in English as quickly as possible.
Assistance is readily available through an Algoma District School Board facility tucked away in a quiet residential section of Steelton.
The Northland Adult Training Centre operates in the former S.F. Howe Public School on Northland Road, one block north of the Steelton’s commercial area.
A team of dedicated professionals offers a variety of learning options for adults 19 years and up.
While most students are Canadian, a contingent of international learners is also present.
They are enrolled in English as a Second Language, or ESL as it is commonly known, a program funded by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.
Janet Prpich is the centre’s program co-ordinator, with responsibilities that include ESL.
“Academically, many international students would be ready for college or university in their native country,” she says.
“They could qualify for admission in Canada, too, except for their limited English. We help them develop the skills required so they can go on to the post-secondary level.”
Employment factors bring other students into ESL, while some want to learn “simply to get along in daily life,” as Prpich puts it.
Typically, 10 to 15 students will be enrolled at any given time.
The program runs virtually year-round, with daytime and evening classes available.
Flexible schedules accommodate work demands and other commitments.
Family connections bring many international students to the Sault, Prpich notes.
“Some will have relatives living here or a spouse attending school. We currently have several women from Saudi Arabia whose husbands attend Algoma University.
“In the past, we’ve had students who were visiting for two months. As well, some will come here for summer school, combining that with their vacation. For others, the motivation may be the wish to more easily communicate with English-speaking relatives.”
From South America to Sault Ste. Marie
Tejena arrived from Ecuador last spring.
“I came to Canada for study purposes,” she said. “My aunt lives in the Sault and I had the opportunity to live with her.”
The 19-year-old began ESL soon after arriving.
“I like everything about the program,” Tejena said. “The teachers are good. I like to learn and we are learning many different things. I took English in Ecuador but it’s not the same.”
While the young woman’s future academic plans aren’t yet finalized, attending Sault College this fall is a distinct possibility.
Tejena is the oldest of three children and her family lives in Portoviejo, Ecuador.
Her hometown of 250,000 people is a provincial capital located about 30 km from the Pacific Ocean.
Aljafer, also 19, has been in the Sault for two months.
“I came to Canada to study English and plan to move to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia [for engineering],” he said.
“I came here first because my brother - Mohammed - is a student at Algoma University. The ESL program is very good and I am enjoying the time with my fellow students.”
Aljafer is one of nine children and his family lives in Najran, a city of about 250,000 residents in southwestern Saudi Arabia.
Leslie Belsito has been an ESL instructor at the centre since 2006.
The photo shows Belsito (centre) with students (from left) Aljafer, Tejena, Jeane Galvao (from Brazil) and Youn Jung Kim (from South Korea).
“I love teaching and meeting new people from different countries,” Belsito said. “We, as teachers, learn as much from the students as they learn from us. I learn a lot about other cultures, geography and history.”
Bev Smith has taught ESL locally for 40 years and is equally enthusiastic.
“It has been so great for me because I’ve met people from all over the world, and I still keep in touch with a few. People are people, no matter where they are from.”
Immersion approach facilitates learning
Instruction follows an immersion model supported by text books, a smartboard, handouts and original materials.
Formal and informal English are used.
Applied field trips, presentations, videos and social activities complement classroom learning.
Orientation to Canadian culture is an integral part of the program.
The Northland Adult Learning Centre and Sault College have signed an agreement that will provide tailored ESL instruction for international students planning to attend the local community college.
Students who go to the centre first will receive a conditional offer of admission to the college, subject to the attainment of English language proficiency requirements.
About 10 international students are expected to participate in the first segment scheduled for introduction this fall.