Learning the English language virtually in a pandemic

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Virtual learning has many parents in the area wanting to pull their hair out, but imagine throwing a language barrier into the mix.

A local organization is helping these families navigate the challenges of online learning. United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA helps families learning English to break through those barriers to virtual education and services. Eyewitness News got to sit in on one of the sessions Thursday evening.

These kids are all hard at work on their virtual assignments for Scranton School District. And they’re learning the English language along the way. In the next room, their parents are learning English too.

This is the family literacy program. Before the pandemic, they offered child care with English as a second language classes for adults. Now child care has turned into an e-learning support room.

“Our plan was to help the students and their parents navigate the technology. So we set up the e-learning support room during class time and then we also have appointments,” ESL instructor and tutor coordinator Audrey Golosky said.

Golosky noticed when school went virtual, ESL students fell behind, especially with reading.

“They might be in third grade and they’re at a first grade reading level,” Golosky said.

And without a teacher to help them understand, instructions were often lost in translation.

“Simple things, where it says turn in, you click to turn in the assignment. A lot of them, they’re doing the assignments but they’re not turning the assignments in,” Golosky said.

“I have to speak in Portuguese with him to try to teach him so these things took more time to translate to him and to teach him,” parent Jamaina Santos said.

New to the country and to the language, parents like Santos felt immense pressure. But her English is quickly improving with the adult ESL class, and she’s more equipped to help her son Benny with his schoolwork at home.

“Now I think I can help him more, because I know more,” Santos said.

In the meantime, Golosky makes sure kids like Benny don’t fall behind. Sometimes making someone feel welcome makes all the difference.

Parents also learn about citizenship, documentation, and adjusting to life in the U.S. The foreign-born population of Scranton has nearly tripled in the last 20 years.

Last year, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania served 421 students from 56 countries, speaking 18 different languages through its community education department.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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