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Reaching out to migrant communities with ESL classes

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better. Mabel Rodriguez, the director of the Migrant Outreach Program at the University of Michigan, is helping the migrant community by bringing U of M students to the community to teach English.

Rodriguez says that due to long hours and a limited ability to travel, members of the migrant community can not attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

“Their ability to actually learn English is very limited, but their interest in learning English is very high, and I feel that as a university community we have the resources and the students that are able to provide ESL instruction for the workers,” Rodriguez says.

The program lasts eight weeks, which restricts the English curriculum.

“There’s a limited amount that the workers actually will learn in terms of the amount of English…I think that the biggest change is the question of the attitude towards English.”

Rodriguez also sees a change in the workers’ children, and the U of M students.

“For the children in particular, their self-esteem becomes much stronger, they become more competitive in wanting to show their abilities to their instructors. You create, I think, for the students at the U of M, a bond with a community that they never see.”

The Migrant Outreach Program is unique because it brings the classes to the workers and allows the workers to decide what the curriculum should include.

“These lessons are developed in conjunction with the workers. So the workers are going to indicate what areas they would like English in, whether they want more English to understand their children’s teachers, or to engage in conversations in stores, and we are able to tailor the vocabulary to their particular needs – which is unlikely to happen in most ESL classes that have a variety of students from different backgrounds.”

-Allison Lyons

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