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Westminster College Students Teach Migrant Workers English Language

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Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Twenty-eight Westminster College students in two sections of the Fall Semester English Language Learner course participated in teaching migrant workers and their families the English language.

The project was set-up through the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Units (IU5) Migrant Education program. According to Coordinator of Migrant Education Recruitment Deke Showman the program serves 100-150 migrant workers in nine counties in Pennsylvania and the majority live in Erie City. There are also small populations in New Wilmington, Volant, West Middlesex, Butler, and Ellwood City. Showman said that not being able to speak English can be very difficult for the local migrant workers, especially those living in rural areas.

"Some may not know how to communicate with their boss, or a doctor, or the police. Simple tasks like making change or paying your grocery bill get a little harder when you aren't familiar with the language," Showman said. "Also social isolation is a big problem. If you're in a part of Pennsylvania that is remote or not very diverse you tend to stick to yourself or the one or two other guys you're working with and a profound feeling loneliness can come over you."

Showman continued, "The community service provides by Westminster's students is letting our area's migrant workers know that we as Pennsylvanians care about them and value their hard work which sustains us. As a marginalized population, often pushed into the cracks and shadows of society, they need to know that they matter as people and that we are proud to have them as productive members of Pennsylvania."

Student Rachael Wetzel said, "I am so glad my professor started this partnership with Migrant Workers Education. English may be one of the worst languages ever created because syntactically, grammatically, and audibly it follows no specific rules. Unfortunately for other cultures, English has become the defacto language of the world. That in itself is why teaching English is so important."

Wetzel is a senior Spanish major and education minor, who has also taught in both the Dominican Republic and Chile, and has volunteered with local English Language Learners (ELL) programs in addition to Migrant Education. After graduation she hopes to get her ELL certificate.

Tina Keller, Westminster lecturer of education and course instructor said, "I am thrilled to be able to partner with Migrant Education to create this ESL tutoring partnership," Keller said. "This experience is a wonderful opportunity for my Westminster College students to meet English Language Learners, see practical connections to their coursework, and serve the community."

Community service and civic engagement is an integral component to the liberal arts education at Westminster, by providing students with a foundation for lifelong desire to give back to the community and as a way for students to apply what they learn "in-class" to real-world experiences.

Throughout the year education students participate in Family Math Night, where they plan activities that present math games and technology applications families can use at home to help their child; the African-American Read-In, where students share books written by African-American authors with children at a local elementary school; and Bridges to Reading, where, in conjunction with the College's Drinko Center for Experiential Learning, provide more than 100 children's books written in English and Spanish to Youngstown area families.

"The Westminster Department of Education has a long history of serving others," said Dr. Amy Camardese, associate professor of education and chair of the department.  "According to the College mission statement, students are expected to demonstrate moral and ethical commitments to neighbor, society, and the natural world. Pre-service teachers are committed to this mission through many service-learning projects."

Contact Keller at 724-946-6034 or email for additional information.