Building on their previous work with educators and educational administrators in the Caribbean, Drs. Amy Gooden and Louise Michelle Vital have, in recent weeks, been teaching Haitian immigrant families to improve their English-language skills to help themselves and their school-aged children.
The Thursday evening classes are conducted virtually on Zoom, in consideration of the participants’ employment and childcare demands.
Gooden, an associate professor of Bilingual Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and Vital, assistant professor of International Higher Education, are working with Brockton Public Schools on an innovative program to meet these English learners’ specific, everyday goals and needs.
“The goal is to provide a high quality, relevant and meaningful course for Haitian immigrant families. Rooted in content-based learning, students in the course learn English skills while simultaneously developing knowledge about the US educational system and strategies for supporting their child’s success,” says Gooden of English for Education and Empowerment, a course she and Vital designed as co-directors of our Institute for English Language Programs Beyond Borders.
Whereas traditional English-skills courses focus on rote memorization (“drill and kill,” Gooden quips), their course is contextualized, tailored to the needs of the students, who influence the lessons by communicating their specific goals and challenges.
Vital and Gooden strive to ensure the curriculum reflects what it means to be an immigrant parent helping their children with schoolwork, filling out college applications or preparing for parent-teacher conferences. As speakers of Haitian Creole and French, Vital says, the participants need English lessons more applicable to their lives than “Sally walks the dog.”
English for Education and Empowerment is part of our Brockton School-Community Engagement Project, which develops teacher and parent leaders in the city’s Cape Verdean, Haitian and Latino communities. It is the sort of community partnership that brings the university’s signature expertise to bear on real-world, inner-city challenges and opportunities.
“It aligns with our core mission,” Gooden says. “We’re a teaching institution at heart. I think it’s relevant because what we’ve created is a model to engage with and support Haitian parents in our local community.”
In this eight-week course alone, the professors are reaching 20 parents who are increasing their own English speaking and listening skills, and helping their children succeed in school and beyond. Upon completion, they earn a noncredit Multilingual Parent Advocacy Certificate.
“It’s going to the community, it’s asking what they need, it’s responding to that need … and it’s helping them develop skills for real-world experiences,” says Vital, whose own parents had to navigate the English language and US academic norms when they immigrated to the US from Haiti in the early 1970s.
“It’s good pedagogical and curricular work, but it’s not highfalutin’,” Vital adds. “They have life going on in the background of the Zoom, but it is an engaging and collegial environment. The participants are committed not only to their success but their children’s success as well.”