There’s more to learning a new language than just memorizing words. You also have to learn about the culture. That’s why one Rock Island group invited some of the Quad Cities’ newest residents to celebrate one of the country’s oldest traditions: Thanksgiving.
Spring Forward has been teaching ESL classes to immigrants in the basement of Rock Island’s Church of Peace for three years as part of its Family Literacy Program.
“It’s very, very isolating to be in a situation where you don’t speak the same language as everybody else around you,” said Spring Forward’s Director of Communications and Family Programming Stephanie Hasaskis. “The English classes help them to feel comfortable.”
Students attend classes four days a week, but each year in the fall they take a night off from their workbooks to celebrate Thanksgiving.
SayLeh and PawDay, two longtime students of the program, said it’s a night they look forward to because it brings everyone together.
“Teachers, friends, everybody,” Pawday said.
Both students are U.S. citizens. SayLeh has lived here for five years and PawDay has called Rock Island home for a decade.
“Their transformation in class is just terrific,” Hasaskis said. “They both will go up and talk to new people and offer information and ask questions about other people where they didn’t before.”
That confidence is key to learning a new language, Hasaskis said, and events like the Thanksgiving dinner help the students practice their English skills a slightly different setting.
“We love to do this as kind of a thank you to our students and a celebration of the diversity we have,” Hasaskis said. “We’re just gathering and being grateful for our friends and our family.”
That’s exactly who PawDay likes to be around in class. She said the support system makes studying a little easier.
“I learn English better with [them],” PawDay said.
Hasaskis said Spring Forward is looking for volunteers to work with ESL students one-on-one. To find out how you can get involved click here.