NEWS FROM AROUND CLARKSTON
The adult students who cluster at circular tables throughout Clarkston Community Center’s East Room come from all around the world. Every student has a distinctive facial expression, one that is recognizable in every culture. It is an expression of determination, commitment, and discipline.
Bobby King, their instructor, lists the countries represented by students in the room. “Ethiopia,” he says. “Eritrea, Pakistan, Iraq, Congo, Burma, Somalia, Iran, Kurdistan, Afghanistan.” They lean over their books and mouth unfamiliar English words like “meridian,” “equator,” and “spherical.” They are here for a very good reason: to improve their English, and for many, to pass the GED.
King, the former director of Refugee Family Services, has taught this free English as a Second Language (ESL) GED course here in Clarkston since its inception in October 2010. With the collaboration of a group of students from nearby Emory University, King’s free course fills a gaping need in the Clarkston refugee community for advanced, intensive language training to prepare new Americans for entering this country’s schools and workforce.
King says the idea for the course came from an Emory undergraduate named Betty Tezera, who was an intern at a refugee service organization when she noticed the gap in education for refugees and immigrants preparing to take the GED.
Resettlement organizations connect newly resettled refugees and immigrants with a number of beginning and intermediate English courses, but according to King, there is a marked absence of resources for building the advanced language skills this population requires for success in college and at jobs in the U.S.
Some of the students have world history textbooks. “Open to pages A14 and A17,” he says. These pages feature large maps of Asia and Africa. Many have large binders filled with papers on the table in front of them. Some have GED prep books, packed with the information one would need to pass the U.S. high school-level achievement test. Today, they are focusing on Geography.
He addresses the circle of college-aged volunteers. “You may want to start by having them point out what country they come from,” he tells them. “Talk to them about the upcoming winter solstice. Talk about the rotation of the earth. Most of them are from temperate zones, so you can talk about what that means.”
Two groups of Emory volunteers trade off helping to tutor students on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Through an arrangement between King and an Emory student group called Volunteer Emory, students of all academic disciplines take time from their busy schedules to help with King’s project. Many of the volunteers familiarize themselves with the content of the GED course ahead of time thanks to a pair of weekly two-hour study sessions. But some have to prepare at home during their limited free time.
King said that it is remarkable that he and the Emory volunteers are able to offer such a comprehensive course on such a limited budget. The course allows students to expand their language knowledge on multiple subjects through face-to-face, in-depth study with native English speakers.
“I can’t imagine how much this annual program would cost—probably six figures,” said King. “We have the human resources to do a lot of this stuff, if people who care mobilize.”
The world history textbooks used in the course were donated from a local high school and the dictionaries come from a local elementary school. King said the courses were only possible thanks to facilities support provided by the Clarkston Community Center and the Clarkston Public Library.
Any persons interested in volunteering as a reading, writing, and mathematics tutor are encouraged to attend the course 6-8 p.m., every Tuesday and Thursday evening, in the East Room at the Clarkston Community Center, and inquire for Bobby King.
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