Education Q&A, Importance of ESL


World Relief Chicago sat down with Mike Moline, the Director of Education at World Relief Chicago, to talk about the office’s ESL programs. Beginning as an ESL instructor with WRC 15 years ago, Mike stepped into the Director role in 2010. He explains,

“I started in ESL in my early 20s, being exposed to people in different countries while I traveled. I think God gave me a heart for two things: cross-cultural ministry and the vulnerable in the world. So when I was exposed to ESL, it was a great way to help people educationally with their English because there is a large demand for it oversees as well.”

We asked him a series of questions related to refugees and immigrant’s experiences with ESL and how World Relief Chicago’s education department assists non-English speakers in America.

When did WRC begin teaching ESL classes?

Classes have been going for close to 30 years. We were set up to serve newly-arrived refugees who arrive in the US because there were a lot of other ESL programs that served immigrants.  Now we also have evening classes that cater more to any immigrants in the community, especially with those who have jobs. Initially, all of our ESL classes were held in churches but around 12 years ago we switched to having most of our classes hosted here onsite, in our main office.

What are you experiences with your students?

I remember on multiple occasions I would be in a student’s home and they would ask me to call the doctor for them, but instead I reviewed what we had gone over in class and told them that I would be on speaker with them in case they needed help. There were numerous times where I saw my students put their classroom education into practice to make appointments for their kids or call their landlord if they had problems. I loved seeing those things happen, and they happened often. You also see how they are flourishing in their jobs and navigating life here in the US and are able to understand and read their mail, make phone calls, and interact with their kid’s teachers. It makes a huge impact on their lives.

Why is learning English so important?

When I was exposed to the need for refugees learning English in the US, I saw how the ability to speak and understand English makes a huge impact on their lives. Because it is so key for them, it was easy to be motivated to help by equipping them in those types of skills while also developing a relationship with them and walking with them along the way as they start their life here. Those who progress in their English are less dependent on us and others to help them navigate life, get jobs, educate their children, etc.

What kind of oversight exists to ensure that the students get the proper English education?

Accountability comes from the state and federal levels that has to do with everything from who is hired as a teacher to how we develop a curriculum and have that approved. Our curriculum is evaluated by the State and that curriculum has to comply with certain English content standards which have been established on the state and federal levels that have to be incorporated into classroom instruction. A recent change to our curriculum is the incorporation of college and career readiness standards that have been included in classes as well as a number of digital literacy standards and some math.

In order for a student to be in our classes, they have to be tested using a standardized test. A student can be in our classes for any length of time as long as they stay within the skill levels that we’re funded to serve. There are also guidelines as to how and when you can give those standardized tests. All of our data has to be put into a state-wide data system that is manages for grant reporting.


How are the classes structured?

Our classes are multi-leveled. In the mornings, we have three classes that cover a range of six national skill levels. Morning classes meet five days per week for a total of 20 hours. Our evening classes meet twice a week for six hours total and cover five of those national skill levels. We are allowed to serve the first six levels of English.

We use a standardized test on the national and state levels to determine someone’s English skill level. Students don’t even have to be literate in their own language to be in our classes but we’ll help them advance and progress all the way up to somewhere around an 8th grade level of English. Students are allowed to stay in our classes for as long as they need.

Our class sessions usually last from around 3-9 weeks depending on the content. Students can retake classes as many times as they need to gain the necessary skills to move on to the next level class. Our classes focus on listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills assessments, formally and informally. Different people will advance at different rates; sometimes we see students advance in their speaking and listening comprehension even if their reading and writing levels don’t keep up with them.


How long does it take a student to pass an English level?

A student could advance between levels between 3-9 months. Every person is different, so the speed at which they learn English varies greatly. There are many factors that can affect a student’s learning, such as age, language acquisition aptitude, other languages they know, if they’ve had traumatic experiences which may impact their ability to learn. Fortunately, our students get as much time as they need to learn English, at no cost.


What distinguishes WRC ESL from other ESL classes?

We want to incorporate our faith in what we do by providing the best teaching possible.  We also strive to help the whole person in the process, referring people to services here or outside of our office that they may need.

Our program is not about producing as many English speakers as we can but providing people with quality English education through a holistic approach.

Most people in our classes often find their first genuine community or a second home through the friendships in the classroom. We are loving and accepting while also being professional and education-focused.


Can I become an ESL teacher?

Our teachers need a certain amount of training to be oriented to aspects of teaching English as a Second Language and adult literacy in their first year. Every year there are also requirements for professional development training that must take place. Right now, each teacher must complete 12 hours of professional training each year.

All of our teachers are also certified ESL instructors. However, we often have classroom aides who are volunteers or those studying to getting their teaching certificates.


What other services does the education department offer?

We provide classroom and in-home tutoring as well as coaching and transitioning for students who have graduated our English classes to move them into advanced educational programs. We provide transportation assistance for students who live more than a mile away to come into class. We also help other departments with consulting.

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