A Growing Population
New BRCC Courses Level Playing Field For English As A Second Language Students
Posted: December 5, 2012
HARRISONBURG — When Pam Yates, assistant professor of English at Blue Ridge Community College, moved to the Shenandoah Valley, she had a preconceived notion about the people who live here.
“I had an idea that it might be a really homogenous culture,” said Yates, who has been surprised to encounter students who speak Spanish, Russian, Kurdish, Gujarati, Lingala, Chinese and Korean at the Weyers Cave school.
“We have had so many different nationalities it is amazing,” Yates said.
As the area population of students who speak English as a second language has continued to grow, so has the college’s commitment to serving that population. That commitment led to the creation of an International Education Task Force in fall of 2007.
The most recent attempt to serve that emerging immigrant population is the creation of two classes that will be offered for the first time this spring to prepare ESL students for college-level work.
“It’s ambitious because, truthfully speaking, it is really hard [to learn a language],” said Yates, who is coordinating the classes. “Language learning takes a lot of time.”
The courses are meant to level the playing field for ESL students by sharpening their composition and reading skills to prepare them for general coursework, Yates said. The students will be enrolled in the classes based on a placement test.
Most students are required to take a placement test at BRCC before enrolling in English or math classes. Another test is specifically for ESL students, which gauges students’ listening, reading, grammar and writing skills.
Based on those placement tests, students either enroll in college-level courses or in developmental math or English. Now, ESL students who test into the developmental courses will have classes with a strong focus on learning English.
The two ESL classes cannot be applied toward graduation, but qualified students can receive financial aid to take them.
“This is going to make it much better for these students,” Yates said. “The instruction is going to be designed to help them learn more efficiently and to really help them in the language aspects.”
By The Numbers
A combination of services and opportunities — through such programs as Harrisonburg Refugee Resettlement, New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center and Skyline Literacy, which offers citizenship and language training — have made the area a prime destination for immigrants in recent years.
Agricultural-based jobs, particularly in the Valley’s poultry processing plants, have been another strong draw for immigrant labor.
The result has been most noticeable in Harrisonburg City Schools, which reports that nearly 36 percent of the division’s students speak English as a second language.
Overall, about 14 percent of the city’s residents are foreign-born, according to U.S. Census Bureau data estimates for 2009-11.
Of the more than 37,400 people living in Harrisonburg who were 18 or older during those years, 11.7 percent spoke a language other than English, according to the data. Of those, approximately 64.4 percent said they spoke English “very well.”
The percentage of people speaking another language living in the other communities that BRCC largely draws from — Augusta, Highland and Rockingham counties and the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro — is far less than in Harrisonburg. Comparative census data for Highland County, Staunton and Waynesboro is not available because “the number of sample cases is too small.”
In Rockingham County, 3.5 percent of the nearly 56,000 people recorded by the Census Bureau who were at least 18 said they spoke a language other than English, and of that number 84.5 percent said they did so “very well.”
In Augusta County, 2.1 percent of the 57,350 people 18 and older recorded in the census data said they spoke a language other than English; 70.4 percent did so “very well.”
Yates said reaching out to immigrant and bilingual residents is important for BRCC.
“I think what we really want for our immigrant residents and students from other cultures with other language backgrounds to know [is] that they’re very welcome here,” she said.
For more information about the classes contact Pam Yates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or email@example.com