ESL classes cut at Issaquah church
April 6, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Renton Technical College administrators ended English as a second language classes taught at the Community Church of Issaquah as the college trims costs. The classes ended March 26 with the last day of the winter quarter.
Administrators cut $884,000 to close a widening budget gap. They laid off 13 part-time ESL instructors, closed the college’s swimming pool and pared operating expenses.
Elizabeth Falconer, an ESL instructor who taught a class in Issaquah, lost her job at the end of the winter quarter. Falconer and a co-instructor taught 22 students in a morning class offered at the church.“ESL is really a basic need for living in this country,” Falconer said.
Her former students hailed from Brazil, China, Korea, Mexico, Russia and Ukraine.
Associate Dean of Basic Studies Jodi Novotny said the college now offers about half of the ESL, adult basic education and GED classes than it did during the fall quarter. ESL instructors are contracted to work per quarter.
“Unfortunately, they’re very vulnerable in these situations,” Novotny said.
If the financial situation improves, college officials would like to increase the number of ESL classes, she added.
Elizabeth Maupin, coordinator of the Issaquah Sammamish Interfaith Coalition, suggested hosting classes at Community Church and helped recruit students. Maupin posted fliers written in nine languages around Issaquah to advertise the classes. She said many of her respondents were parents of children attending schools in the Issaquah School District.
“They were very enthusiastic and that in part fueled the enthusiasm of the volunteers who worked with them,” she said.
Before the cutbacks, Maupin said officials discussed adding a summer ESL class for children.
“There is a real desire among the immigrant community out there to have more ESL opportunities across the generations,” she said.
Falconer said the classes brought together adults from disparate cultures. She encouraged cultural exchanges with potlucks and other events, such as a celebration of the Chinese New Year. To help her students improve their English, she assigned them to keep blogs. She paid out of pocket to buy a whiteboard and to set up Wi-Fi access in her classroom.
College administrators informed Falconer and other instructors about the cuts two weeks before the end of classes. Students wrote letters to Gov. Chris Gregoire to express concerns about the cutbacks. A handful of students traveled to Olympia to discuss the issue with state lawmakers.
Maupin said she would like to revive the ESL classes at Community Church, possibly with volunteers instead of paid instructors.
“People who come here want to integrate into society and this is an essential part of it,” she said.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.