Services that Empower

Reprinted Courtesy of: American Libraries Magazine

"Adult literacy classes, conversation groups, and other services offered to adult English language learners at the library create communities for learning, sharing, and opportunity. Students prepare to become citizens and high school grads, obtain jobs, or attend a parent/teacher conference with confidence for the first time."


Finding a voice and a place in the community


Talk Time, a program at Madison Public Library’s Goodman South Madison Branch, helps students find a voice, and ultimately, a place in their new community. Students learn to use English language in real-life situations while learning about each other and the community.

Funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant enabled the library to hire a teacher with a master’s degree in applied linguistics to lead its Talk Time program. Conversations focus on subjects like coping with stress, getting around the city, using library resources, family and also fun craft projects, which lead to cross cultural sharing about crafts in students’ home countries.

Students who want to become citizens also find a place at Talk Time to discuss local elections. “They really want to be able to vote. We talk a lot about other ways they can be a part of the community,” says Chris Wagner, American Dream project coordinator.

Chang, a student from China, used to visit the library with his two daughters. Wagner saw that he seemed overwhelmed by his English-speaking daughters.

Chang eventually enrolled in the nine-session Talk Time program. “Each time he came, he would get happier and happier, and he was laughing and smiling and enjoying himself,” Wagner said. One time, she said, they were discussing food. “I said, ‘I like peanuts.’ And he said, ‘I have a joke. I like doughnuts. Get it?’” What a huge jump. We really got to see him bloom.”


”Imagine learning to speak another language at my age!”

With a new collection of materials and an expanded conversation club, the Plainfield Public Library in suburban Chicago was ready to serve its area’s adult English-language learners in an area where families speak 71 languages other than English at home.

Josefina Ruiz, a single mother of three who was born in Mexico, worked with a tutor trained through the Plainfield Public Library for almost a year. Her goal: to be able to speak on her own with her children’s teachers and doctors, instead of relying on her oldest son.

Last spring, Josefina attended her daughter’s parent-teacher conference by herself and had a full conversation with the teacher. “I never would have gone alone without all of your help,” Josefina told her tutor. Josefina, who says she now thinks in English and no longer has to translate in her head before speaking, began GED classes at a local junior college this fall.

Woja Kalil came to the United States from Lebanon just four years ago to live with her son and his family. While visiting the library with her grandchildren, a children’s librarian suggested that she try the library’s conversation club. Not long after, Woja began meeting weekly with a tutor through the library’s program with a local literacy partner. She has now “graduated” by testing out of the tutoring program. Her summary of her experience: “Imagine learning to speak another language at my age!”



An ESL class at the library meant a chance for a better life


Little Elm Public Library, whose community had seen a 466 percent population jump since the 2000 census, knew there was a need for adult literacy services. Patrons had inquired about classes, and a 12-volume English course purchased by the Friends group was in high rotation. With funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant, the library launched “Open Doors with Literacy @ your library,” offering classes for adult basic literacy and English as a second language. The grant enabled the library to purchase new books, a laptop, and a subscription to Mango Languages online language learning software.

Pedro Filho drives 35 miles in rush hour traffic to attend the library’s ESL class. He spoke very few English words when he started but began to make progress. How could he tell? “He was thrilled to tell us that he can now understand a lot of what his kids say when they are talking amongst themselves,” said project manager Tina Hager.




Dedication to learning English

The American Dream Starts @ your library grant offered Harrisburg Public Library District an opportunity to purchase materials for adult English-language learners for the first time. The resources supplemented a new ESL class at the library in partnership with a local community college.

Potential students learned about the program from the library’s promotion at local restaurants.


”The most comfortable English class I have ever taken”


Berwyn Public Library in suburban Chicago added new conversation, reading, writing, and grammar groups as part of its American Dream Starts @ your library program. More than half of Berwyn residents speak a language other than English in the home.

The grant has delivered huge dividends for those taking advantage of the library’s programs, such as Berwyn resident Dolores Sánchez, a member of the multilevel ESL conversation group. She said, “The ESL programs fit my needs. My writing and speaking have improved in my home. My children have benefited, too, since I have been reading more and have had more contact with people who speak English well.”





Affordable, accessible English

“We saw a tremendous need. Our students wanted to get better jobs, help their children do homework and move beyond the limitations of not speaking English. Thanks to this grant, we made a difference in the lives of more than 100 people and their families.” —American Dream Project Coordinator

With nearly 75 percent of Passaic’s 68,000 residents speaking a language other than English, the need for affordable, accessible English as a second language classes was in high demand. While classes had been offered outside of the library, residents faced the issue of classes continually being booked or being too expensive. The library received 300 applications for classes even before it began offering classes.

Thanks to funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant, the library held three 10-week ESL classes for free to residents looking to learn or improve their English-speaking skills. The grant covered the cost of hiring a professional ESL instructor and the purchase of student activity books.