Tuesday, August 6, 2013

English class makes house calls with new mobile classroom

by Ralph Noyes

ESL classes, commonly restricted to church basements, private homes, and other temporary or ill-equipped places, are now being brought to the people who need them.

The ESL To Go truck, Tennessee’s first mobile ESL classroom, celebrated its unveiling June 22 in Nashville’s East-Centric Pavilion. The four hour event included a plethora of international food, Burmese dancing, live salsa music by Revolfusion, and speeches by Mayor Karl Dean and Gatluak Thach, Executive Director of Nashville International Center for Empowerment.

The 12-seat, fully equipped, climate-controlled truck sat outside while people walked in and out. Leah Hashinger, Tenneessee Foreign Language Institute Instructor and co-creator of the project, sat inside and discussed how the idea came about.

“There was a meeting held at the Tennessee Office for Refugees where they discussed the top barriers that refugees had in getting to English classes. Why aren’t they coming? They realized that they couldn’t get there,” she explains.

The vehicle serves several apartment complexes with refugee resettlement communities in the south Nashville area along Nolensville road, and hopes to expand to Gallatin road by the end of the Summer. Half a dozen TESL Certified teachers work on the truck, giving two-hour lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays to the Burmese, Iraqi, Somali, Vietnamese, and Congalese refugees in the area. On “Special Interest Fridays”, the truck is reserved for community outreach projects ranging from health screenings to workshops.

“We want to provide them with the tools for a faster, easier integration into Nashville,” says Janice Rodriguez, TFLI’s Executive Director, “What we did was to create a dialogue with the refugee community about what they needed. That’s what it takes, and this was our answer. It will be a paradigm shift in the way that English classes are delivered.”

Individuals and community organizations interested in reserving the truck should contact Janice Rodriguez, at janice at tfli.org

Voice of America also published a profile of the ESL To Go program in Nashville, here.

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