By Charles Scott and Fred Wu
Nassau BOCES will be introducing new adult education classes for English as a second language (ESL) students next week. These new classes that make up the Pathway to Employment for English Language Learners (PEELL) program will train ESL students in automotive, dental assistant and plumbing careers.
Tuition costs $500, partly subsidized by grants. In comparison, the school’s basic automotive repair course costs $795. The program will include class time and access to employment tools.
“It’s allowing people to get better jobs,” Martin Murphy, the director of LI-RAEN, said. Murphy later noted that while LI-RAEN programs can possibly help people get better jobs, there is not a guarantee of better jobs for all. ESL adult education programs are consistent with the goals of Long Island Regional Adult Education Network (LI-RAEN), the governmental body that oversees Nassau BOCES.
Other than Nassau BOCES, a number of private institutions are also focusing on ESL training for adults, providing tools for improving daily conversation, personal interest, and workplace competitiveness.
“Most of our students have encountered bottlenecks during their work time. Communication is the prime question to them,” Frank Xia, who tutors Chinese speakers in English at Wall Street English, said. “However, most students have the idea of self-directed learning and have the desire to improve themselves to compete in their career, so adult students’ self-discipline will be relatively higher compared with other students.”
Not only are there challenges for workers who speak English as a second language, but adults who grew up bilingual might struggle with the vocabulary development necessary to succeed in the workplace.
“If you’re learning a language as a second language, studies have been pretty clear on this,” Franklin Manis, a professor of psychology at the University of South California, said. “The vocabulary for either language is generally smaller.” Manis focuses on bilingual children, but he noted that these issues could continue as bilingual individuals graduate from high school and move into the workforce.
ESL children often act as translators for their parents when it comes to important paperwork like bills, forms and surveys, so as they head into the workforce they may be better equipped than monolingual individuals, Manis said.
The Nassau County district had over 130,000 limited English proficiency residents in 2015. In that context, Nassau BOCES’ ESL programs become especially valuable.
The PEELL program is tied to a broader initiative at the school, with work-readiness at its core. The career center at Nassau BOCES that opened in March of 2019 and is expanding this year. The career center will help with connecting the best students in any given field to employers who are looking to fill positions in many areas, from dental assistants to automotive engineers.
“Prior to having the career center, it was very much that they were relying on their own ability to find a job. Now they have support,” Michele Cohen, principal of Nassau BOCES’ adult education program, said.
Besides adult education classes and career opportunities for ESL students, Nassau BOCES provides 25 classes in six sections for students who are looking to learn a variety of skills. On September 5th, the school held an open house to show off these classes and encourage prospective adult education students to enroll.
A potential student, Franklin Johnson, came to look into electrical classes for himself and his daughter. He used to attend BOCES for the adult education program, and this year will mark his return to the program, if he decides to enroll. He said the program was good when he was enrolled. “That’s why I’m trying to come back,” Johnson said.
BOCES is one of Long Island’s key providers for adult education, but there are a few similar programs provided by local colleges. Hofstra University Continuing Education has dedicated facilities for adult education. Its classes cover business management, healthcare, American Sign Language, and more.
Hofstra’s adult education classes, like BOCES, prioritize career readiness. “The adults are enhancing their skills, and either improving themselves for the job that they’re in or possibly starting another career.” Colleen Slattery, vice dean of Hofstra University Continuing Education, said. The school also helps with resume writing and interview training. Hofstra’s adult education program does not have an ESL element, but the school is looking at various options for the future.
Nassau BOCES currently serves 1800 adult ESL learners across Nassau County. Registration for Nassau BOCES’ PEELL program was due in late August, and classes begin on September 17th and September 23rd. The program claims to get students job-ready in 10 weeks.