ESL Teachers recertify to help refugees acquire language skills

This spring, English teachers from Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) received their annual training on the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS) from Orange County schools, to better serve refugee clients. The CASAS system allows teachers to determine a student’s initial placement, assess their progress, and promote them to the next level.

Eligible refugees, asylees, and Cuban/Haitian parolees can take free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes through the CCCF Adult Education program, part of the Comprehensive Refugee Services.  Students wishing to enroll in the ESL program must take the CASAS placement test, then they are assigned to courses offered on-site at CCCF or four other locations including at St. John Vianney Parish in Orlando. The classes are designed to help students learn to read, write, speak and comprehend English.

“The goal of the program is to help clients become self-sufficient and independent,” explained Katherine Diaz, supervisor of the CCCF Adult Education program. “If they have a job, we want them to be able to keep it or move up. If they are looking for work, we help them with proper language skills for a successful job interview.”

The Adult Education program has 89 active clients served by 7 instructors. Michael Holbrook teaches a pre-literate course for individuals who are unable to read or write in their native languages. “The unique part about my students is they have to learn ‘how to learn’,” said Holbrook. “Because of the free education in this country, we grow up learning throughout the various developmental stages. My students missed out on that and don’t read or write in their own language. Now, they are trying to learn it in English. It is very challenging.”

Holbrook, one of the newest ESL teachers at CCCF Adult Education comes with a world of experience, including teaching ESL in Taiwan, working in an orphanage in Mongolia, and working with underachieving students in the Orange County school system. Holbrook has developed a website for his students to practice new skills at home.

“I would do this work for free,” shared Holbrook.  “It has been humbling for me to work with refugees. They taught me how to not be a crazy, busy American, searching for unimportant things in life. They can thank me, but the truth is, it helps me even more.”

By Jennifer Powers, Florida Catholic correspondent – May 2018