Online Beginning Life Skills ESL Class for Caregivers in Rural Communities
written by Patricia Willers, ESL instructor
In January of 2020, the Yolo County Library/Winters Community Library introduced an impactful new English class for community members, “Beginning Life Skills ESL Class for Caregivers in Rural Communities.” Following the successful first term, and thanks to the generosity of Winters Friends of the Library, all involved were ready for a second term. It was clear that the course provided a valuable and fruitful opportunity for participants and their families to come together each Friday night to learn, speak English, and build literacy in Winters.
As it was the spring of 2020, we all know what happened next. As summer progressed into fall, it became clear that repeating the same course in the same format would be impossible. Discussion amongst leaders and educators continued, and plans for the course moved forward. Instead of meeting at the community library, participants would meet on Zoom each Friday night. Class sessions would be supported with short videos each week.
The word went out to students from the first cohort, and slowly but surely, surprising developments unfolded. Reach was extended. Participants from Esparto, Dixon, and the surrounding areas joined the core Winters group and soon the participant list was full and a waitlist created. There were true beginners and more advanced students, returning students and new participants that were just learning about the opportunities provided by the library system and Winters Friends of the Library. Everyone logged on to Zoom that first Friday night in September wondering what would happen next.
The structure and class organization was different, and even the topics in the course morphed in purpose. Similar to the previous spring 2020 session, elements of family well-being, literacy, and health were integral pieces in the course. Additionally, each week an element of digital or computer literacy was added to the discussion. Participants learned how to interact on Zoom using reactions. They took polls, discussed apps, and responded to questions using the chat. They used search terms to find educational videos and support services for family needs from government and non-governmental agencies. In addition, this thoughtful group of caregivers considered the benefits and downfalls of online education for their children, and discussed ways to keep spirits high when their children (and they themselves!) were feeling down about the situation.
As the course continued, participation was shaky at first. Technology and accessibility caused challenges, so similar to the situation of inequity in virtual classrooms all around the country and world. But with the help and support of library staff and Yolo County family literacy specialists, outreach was increased, and attendance rebounded. From there the gains only went up and up. More participants joined, and sometimes children and spouses as well! Everyone looked forward to logging in on Friday nights for an hour of togetherness, laughs and learning. In some ways, the Zoom classroom was more intimate than the large meeting room at the library.
The improvement in digital literacy and in English fluency was beyond impressive. The participants of this course did not let the unknown intimidate them. Instead, they leaned in, unmuted, and jumped into the conversation, asking what kind of atole someone was drinking, or the age of the granddaughter sitting next to someone on the couch. Not once was it necessary to ask a class participant to turn on their camera. Everyone came wearing their best face— whether the day was an awful one or a wonderful one, or simply a normal 2020 day.
We have all experienced a year of ups and downs, and in this ESL class for caregivers, life was no different. We discussed public health issues such as mask wearing and social distancing. When Covid-19 numbers in California and the U.S. skyrocketed in the fall, data literacy became a topic of discussion as we examined increase and decrease, peak and plateau. We wished each other well when someone was awaiting the results of a Covid test for their friend, sister, or child. The energy and dedication with which class participants arrived each week should be an example for all. No matter how the world is changing, now is always the time to learn and to grow. Thank you so much to the Winters Friends of the Library for this experience and thank you to all the caregivers enrolled in this class. You made the experience one that I will always remember.
Gracias a mis Estudiantes y Winters Friends of the Library:Una Clase Virtual de la Biblioteca de Winters: ESL para Cuidadores en Comunidades Rurales por Patricia Willers, maestra de ESL
Al principio de 2020, Yolo County Library/Winters Community Library introdujeron una clase de ESL especial, ESL y estrategias de vida para Cuidadores en Comunidades Rurales, apoyado por los Winters Amigos de la Biblioteca (Winters Friends of the Library). Después de una dedicación impresionante del primer semestre, los líderes de Yolo County Library querían tener la clase otra vez. Desafortunadamente, el año 2020 trajo la pandemia global de coronavirus que ha cambiado casi todos en nuestras vidas.
Aunque no sabíamos si era buena idea o no, los líderes de Yolo County Library, Winters Community Library y Winters Friends of the Library decidieron que ahora siempre es la hora correcta para aprender. 15 participantes registraron para la clase, una clase en Zoom cada viernes con vídeos extras para cada clase. A pesar de un programa nuevo, método de aprender nuevo, y los interrupciones que siempre viene con la conexión de internet, nos asombra la respuesta y las acciones de los participantes.
Los temas de la clase también cambiaron. Es claro que la clase seguir leer y hablar en inglés, aprender y usar frases nuevas, y hacer ejercicios de gramática. Adicionalmente, platicabamos en inglés sobre sus niños, familias y vidas saludables en este tiempo tan difícil y raro. Las lecciones tenían un énfasis nuevo en habilidades y estrategias con el Internet, data, y aplicaciones como Zoom. Con cada tema discutimos vocabulario, frases, y expresiones, y también los cambios causados por la corona. ¿Cómo pueden ayudar los niños a seguir sus estudios con motivación cuando ellos extrañan a sus amigos? ¿Cómo se puede celebrar un cumpleaños en una manera segura durante una pandemia?
Las conversaciones me afectan tan positivamente cada semana, y creo que los participantes estuvieron de acuerdo. Los desafíos de 2020 han afectado a todos. Y gracias al Winters Amigos de la Biblioteca, tuvimos un lugar virtual para manejar y discutir estos desafíos comunal y global. Como siempre, para los participantes de las clases ESL para Cuidadores en Comunidades Rurales, la meta es la comunicación entre los ciudadanos de Winters. No importa las dificultades, juntos continuamos trabajando hacia esta meta.