Each month, a volunteer at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services is featured for their dedication of time and talent. This month's volunteer spotlight is:

The Pre-ESL Teaching Team - April 2018

 Janelle Weiner teaching a set of Pre-ESL students.

Janelle Weiner teaching a set of Pre-ESL students.

Pre-ESL is the newest level of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS). The class is designed for individuals who desire to learn English, but do not read or write fluently in their native language. Many students in the class are recently arrived Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders from Afghanistan. The students are excited and motivated to learn. They attend class four days per week, Monday through Thursday.

The Pre-ESL teaching team is a special group of volunteers. There are four teachers and two teaching assistants who cover the Pre-ESL class. They each have an assigned teaching day, which means that these volunteers must communicate daily to share their progress and discuss successes and challenges. Kelley Jones, Adult Education Coordinator, raves about the positive energy these talented teachers radiate in class.

“Each one of the teachers is incredibly talented and energetic.”, says Kelley. “They create such a positive, fun environment in their classrooms. The students are having fun and learning a ton at the same time. It’s so impressive watching the teachers work their magic.”

So, who are they? Motivated to serve vulnerable communities, Christina Stevenson attended volunteer orientation in December 2016. She started teaching Pre-ESL in March 2017 with just one or two students. Now, 12-15 students regularly attend her classes. Christina has a PhD in Literature, teaches at a local college and is a mom of school-aged kids. She loves that the Pre-ESL students are eager to learn and fun to be around. She enjoys getting to know the students’ backgrounds and goals. One of Christina’s challenges teaching Pre-ESL is coming up with inventive ways to build students’ vocabulary and help them become more comfortable speaking aloud in English. She is grateful for the opportunity to meet and interact with the students.

Janelle Weiner’s volunteer experience at SFBFS began in 2005 in Playcare. After taking a hiatus from volunteering to focus on work and family, she was excited to return as an ESL volunteer in 2017. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Education, she realized that teaching ESL was a great fit for her. She strives to keep her lessons multi-sensory and engaging. She loves watching a student demonstrate comprehension of a new concept. “It makes me want to jump up and down!”, Janelle exclaims. She admires the sense of community among students and their bravery as they take risks in their learning. She says Pre-ESL is challenging because teachers must think carefully about each word they say, use a lot of pantomiming and lots of smiling to encourage students. Janelle feels that, similar to financial contributions to SFBFS, “One hour of volunteer service will translate to five hours as your work ripples into the daily life of our clients and their families.”

Rekha Hamilton came to the U.S. from India when she was 17 years old. She had previously done group volunteering at SFBFS in her corporate job, but sought out a volunteer role in teaching. “I love learning languages and I can sympathize with those who are learning a new language and culture,” Rekha explains. Her favorite part about teaching Pre-ESL is interacting with the students and learning about their language and culture. She loves the challenge of tailoring the curriculum to the specific needs of the students. “I like to put myself in the students’ shoes and think about what would best help them to connect with what I’m teaching that day,” she says. In addition, Rekha is completely astounded at how much volunteering has helped HER! “Volunteering is amazing because of the people I meet every day, including the students, staff and other volunteers.”

Lisa Rogal also loves working with the Pre-ESL students. “They are so enthusiastic, kind and fun,” says Lisa. “They are impressively committed to their education and the education of their classmates. That kind of energy is really infectious and makes the class a pleasure rather than a chore.” Lisa’s previous experience includes working as a college writing instructor and writing tutor, including working with ESL students. She mentions that it can be difficult to communicate a specific instruction or idea to students who are new to the English language. “It’s important to have patience and flexibility and to be willing to re-think your approach”, she adds. “The students have a great attitude and sense of humor when it comes to communication hurdles.”  Lisa commends the Adult Education staff, Max and Kelley, for their hard work and commitment to creating such a positive learning environment. 

Katy Zane came to SFBFS with extensive non-profit experience, both in leadership and direct service. She is executive director of Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC), a non-profit assisting low-income families in Yolo County. A few years ago, she was a tutor in SFBFS’ Adult Education program and recently returned as a volunteer teaching assistant in Pre-ESL. She was interested in serving and supporting refugees. She enjoys meeting the students and learning about their lives and cultures. “It’s a chance to learn about many cultures that you might never be exposed to otherwise,” she comments. Katy feels many of the students would really benefit from one-on-one tutoring in addition to attending class and she would like to spend more time working with students individually. “SFBFS is really well-organized and has a happy vibe when you walk in the door. I’m glad I have this opportunity to volunteer.”

Carol Wisniewski is also part of this talented teaching team. She was a special education teacher and resource specialist with Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) for many years. Carol notes that the Pre-ESL students’ varying levels of skill can be a challenge in class. She loves working with students who are so eager and thankful for the help. “It’s gratifying to work with such respectful and appreciative students,” she comments.

SFBFS is extremely proud and grateful for each member of the Pre-ESL teaching team. Thank you all!

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