By Carla Branch
The 108 participants in this semester’s New Neighbors English as a Second Language program received their certificates of completion on Friday in a ceremony at Christ Church. Many of the participants’ children congratulated them by singing “It’s a Small World”.
Christ Church started New Neighbors 11 years ago as an outreach mission with a few dedicated volunteers. The program grew so rapidly that Christ Church could no longer operate it alone. Two years ago, New Neighbors became a program of the Campagna Center with continued support from Christ Church.
“They provide the space for the program and if any of our students needs a scholarship, Christ Church helps with that extra funding as well,” said Susanne O’Neill, the New Neighbors program director. “Also, some of the volunteers who started with the program all of those years ago are still with us.”
New Neighbors’ mission is to: “provide educational programs and related services to help immigrant and refugee families become self-sufficient and fully participating members of our community.” This semester there were 108 adult students from 41 countries, many from Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Classes meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to noon in two 12-week sessions. One session runs from September to December and the second from February to May.
In addition to teaching the adult participants English, New Neighbors offers affordable daycare for partcipants’ children ages zero to four years old. During breaks from class, parents visit their children and participate in an educational activity with their child. They also learn parenting strategies to use at home. There is a lending library where parents can borrow age-appropriate books to read to their children. This semester, 25 children were enrolled in the daycare program. The cost is $100 per child for the 12-week session and $100 for the adult to enroll in English class.
The eight levels of adult language classes are taught by trained volunteers, many of whom have worked with the program for five years or more. There are 28 volunteer teachers, tutors and computer lab assistants. There are six paid daycare providers and a part-time director who works 25 hours per week.
The outcome-based curriculum is designed to maximize learning and student achievement. Students use a textbook, a workbook; two CD’s and work in the computer lab where Rosetta Stone is available. Adult students also read novels, topical articles, practice speaking and, if necessary, are assigned an individual tutor.
When students enroll in the program, they are given a placement test to determine the appropriate level at which they are speaking. Each semester, they take a pre and post-test to assess their progress. In the fall of 2011, 88% of the New Neighbors students advanced to the next level. One student recently passed the U. S. citizenship exam after three years of study.
The program is funded by United Way, City of Alexandria Human Services Fund, Christ Church, Agnes Meyer Foundation and a host of individual donors. The Campagna Center raises funds in a variety of ways such as the recent Artisan Beer and Wine Tasting.