Friday, June 1, 2012

ESL classes, services for international residents in the North Hills.

For better or worse, Pittsburgh is dominated by two large newspapers. They occasionally have coverage of local news and events, but when they do they essentially are read like press releases and don't have much personality. Some of the local weekly papers fill in the gaps, and although some of their stories are on the level of "Farmer Jones loses cow" or "Local restaurant debuts peach pie", you'll sometimes find some interesting stuff with an international connection.

Two local weekly circulars under the stewardship of the Tribune-Review recently had articles about ESL classes and cultural adjustment programs in the North Hills and the volunteers who staff them. On May 24th had a piece on "Cranberry W.I.N." [Welcoming International Neighbors] and the services they provide to new international residents and visitors.
Because relocating to a new country isn't always easy, the Cranberry Township is offering a helping hand through Cranberry W.I.N. — Welcoming International Neighbors — a volunteer program dedicated to helping international visitors and new residents by offering basic English tutoring and other personalized assistance.

The service not only helps those needing aid in basic or conversational English skills, but also assists with everyday types of questions, such as where to shop, how to use public transportation or even where to buy a car, said Chelsea Puff, community projects administrator for Cranberry Township.

"It's to help them get acclimated to the community and new environment," Puff said.

The volunteer service began in 2010 after the township hosted a focus group studying what types of challenges international residents in the area face.

Currently, there are about 20 volunteers who help with the program, many of whom have previously lived abroad so, Puff said, they know what it's like to live in a different country.

"They're looking at it as the same perspective as these international residents," she said.
The article directs readers to the Diverse Cranberry website, where they can find links to community resources and an application for the ESL tutoring program.

A few days later the McKnight Journal had something about ESL classes at a local church:
When leaders of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the North Hills considered holding English-language classes for foreign-born local residents, they had no idea what the response might be.

"We were scared about what we were getting into," said John Russell, the director of the program for the church in Ross Township.

Yet church members wanted to help immigrants who might be feeling lost with just limited command of English.

Fifty students attended the first class in September, and the planning committee was "overwhelmed," said Russell, of Ross. When 60 came the next week, members were ecstatic. All told, 85 students registered.

During the last class of the season in May, organizers were certain their idea had been a good one, as the large meeting room filled with the aromas of an international food court. Study was over, and it was time for celebration with students contributing home-country favorites to the ethnic dinner.

The room buzzed with sounds of growing friendships; the English-as-a-second-language, or ESL, classes had become more than lessons for future conversations.

"We're very thankful, and we're amazed," said the Rev. Harry Metzger of McCandless, pastor of the church.

"It's been such a delight. The students are so friendly, kind, appreciative. Some don't want to break for summer."

The plan to create "a family atmosphere and a place to love these people," in Metzger's words, had been a success.
More information about the ESL classes on the church's website.