By JOE JAROSZ
March 19, 2014
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – In Historic Northeast Kansas City, Mo., lies a school that houses roughly 700 students.
But this isn’t any normal school. Not when its student body represents over 75 countries from around the world, including eastern Africa, central America and Asia.
The English as a Second Language Center, located at the St. Anthony’s Parish at 309 Benton Blvd., assists refugees in learning English. The Don Bosco Center, in partnership with the Independence School District, tests students at registration to determine their English skill level, then enrolls the students into the appropriate class, free of charge. The curriculum is designed to teach not only the language, but also aspects of American daily life, culture, and traditions.
Leslie Gasser, fund development director for the Don Bosco Center, said many of the students are refugees, some of whom are learning to read and write for the first time. She said the refugees work with the American consultant to determine where they’ll be placed. Kansas City has a refugee program through Jewish Vocational Services, which supports the refugees for 90 days once they get placed in the area.
The center and its staff conduct one-on-one meetings with the students once enrolled because not every student will be on the same level. Through those meetings, Gasser said staff helps to identify what the student’s personal goals are and what they need to be successful.
“There’s a lot of help with life skills because life in the United States can be overwhelming,” Gasser said.
The classes – which last from August through June – begin at the most basic level, Gasser said. From there, she added, staff is very hands-on with its teaching. Diana Le, ESL instructor, said the learning level is mixed amongst its students, as some were doctors and lawyers in their native homeland.
“Those students progress real fast,” Le said.
The center is paid for from a Department of Education grant, which Gasser said pays for a majority of the center, as well as fundraisers hosted by the Don Bosco Center. She said St. Anthony’s Parish is a great central location in northeast for its students. Don Bosco Center has operated the ESL center for over 30 years but, in July 2013, began a partnership with the Independence School District to better its services for refugees.
“This is a partnership that’s less than one year old and we’re already seeing great results,” Gasser said.
Bob Jansen, who’s taught at the school for over 30 years, said a lot has changed since he began his career with the center. When the school first opened, many students were of Vietnamese descent. Now, the school is more mixed in its population. He added there’s a lot more technology used now, as well.
“Even the low level students are getting immersed in computer technology,” Jansen said. “There are much better materials now.”
After the students graduate, Jewish Vocational Services helps students find work in the community. If students don’t successfully complete the school, Gasser said it is usually to the students leaving to care for family or life circumstances.
“Some disappear but we try to accommodate as best we can,” Gasser said.
Shawntell Martin, ESL and GED instructor, said her classes deal with more than just language, but life lessons. Her assignments, she said, are geared more toward work readiness.
“I help them with their resumes and we conduct mock interviews,” Martin said.
She also incorporates a lot of survival skills into her lessons, which includes how to interact in society, searching for homes and government and job forms.
“We help them balance their lives,” Martin said. “There’s great relationship building and a wealth of work here that’s never ending. But it’s a fun, learning experience.”