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The Trio Every Learner Needs for Online Learning – Part 1

2 weeks 2 days 6 hours 17 min ago

In the MCAEL network, many programs are continuing to offer online adult ESOL classes, while also returning to in-person learning too. Learners have relished the convenience of online classes. But, in order to clear the threshold toward success in an online class, an adult learner needs three things 1) a computer (preferably a laptop); 2) high-speed internet access (that is reliable and affordable), and 3) some level of digital literacy.

So, on Saturday MCAEL coordinated a day - with the help of amazing partners – to distribute free laptops, to provide on-site sign-ups for free and reduced internet services, AND to provide one-on-one initial digital training so folks could log on to their computers and download Zoom.

Thanks to Montgomery College we had a great hosting site in the science building on the Rockville Campus. That central location was accessible to families taking classes at MCAEL programs around the county – including Vietnamese American Services, Montgomery College, CASA, Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center, Seneca Creek Community Church, Catholic Charities, the Ethiopian Community Center, and many more.

Thanks to the Montgomery Connects program sponsored by the Montgomery County Department of Technology, Enterprise Business Solutions (TEBS), as well as Josh Bokee with Connect for Broadband, we were able to distribute computers provided through a federal grant that TEBS obtained and have representatives on-site from Comcast, Verizon, and T-Mobile to provide immediate sign-ups for internet services.

And thanks to MCAEL’s own Danny Quile and several volunteers, computer recipients could open up their laptops, learn how to start it up, and sign on and download Zoom for their online class.

We often share that adults wish to learn English to help their children in school – and sure enough – during our day, a Mom was learning how to log onto the MCPS website to look at her daughters' information. She was delighted to be one step further to her goal in her English language journey and I am very proud of the coordinating role MCAEL plays in our community. I’ll be back with a Part 2 about this event in the next day or two – stay tuned.

Kathy Stevens, MCAEL Executive Director

Executive Director Spotlight - For the Love of Learning

1 month 1 day 6 hours 17 min ago

Today is the day.  It is the first day of school in Montgomery County, MD for over 160,000 students, their teachers, para-educators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and all the others that make education possible, including parents and families.  I love this time of year. I love learning. Here at MCAEL, we will be studying and practicing just as much as the kids in MCPS classrooms and adults in MCAEL classes -my staff and I have started Spanish classes together-- working to improve our communication with many of the MCAEL network’s 11,000 adult English learners who speak Spanish. This morning I brought homemade zucchini bread to work which has been promptly labeled, pan de calabacin.  The promise of a new year- new learnings, new teachings, new questions, and answers brings me hope. I wish everyone an inspirational and safe year full of challenges and successes. And now to get to work after “liking” all the first-day photos on social media. 

- Kathy Stevens
Executive Director, MCAEL

People of MCAEL - Meet Anteneh Habtesellassie

1 month 6 days 6 hours 17 min ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our eighth profile: Anteneh Habtesellassie

“When someone is new here [to the U.S.], they have culture shock. I am here to give them inspiration; I bring hope and energy to my role whether its helping with information or the new culture. 

I’m the project manager of the Ethiopian Community Center of Maryland (ECCM), located in Silver Spring. The DMV is home to the largest Ethiopian population in the world outside of Africa. We provide a variety of services to the community at ECCM. If someone walks in the door with a question, my goal is to find the answer. 

The ECCM is a bridge between people and resources. The more I can learn about what’s here— in government, business, local media, and entertainment—the better I serve my community. I share job resources like Worksource Montgomery, and immigrant and asylum services. Amharic is our native language; for people seeking to study English I send them to MCAEL. 

The community also hosts a big showcase each September to celebrate the Ethiopian New Year. It has entertainment, arts and information; over 10,000 people attended our last one in Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza. We’re planning another one for 2022. 

In Ethiopia I earned bachelor’s degrees in bioscience and journalism/communications. I’ve lived in the U.S. for five years, all of them here. My wife and I and our three children, we love Montgomery County, we are aspiring to achieve our dreams. My heart is filled with community and activities with the African community, with Ethiopians. 

I am happy to establish new friendships here, to build a healthy, harmonious society. I would tell both my community and other county residents in order to live in harmony, we need to know each other. This is a two-way commitment. America receives people from all over the world; Ethiopians are not always used to that. We are experiencing unrest and war at home, with thousands killed or becoming refugees fleeing to safer lands. 

We call Silver Spring the capital of the Ethiopian diaspora. In addition to our community center, there is an Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce serving the DMV. We are also working to create relationships with local religious leaders, as we know the churches and mosques are a powerful place to connect with the community. 

For anyone interested in learning more about Ethiopia, we have an incredibly rich history and culture. The fossils of ‘Lucy,’ one of the oldest living human ancestors, were discovered in Ethiopia. A good book on our country is A History of Modern Ethiopia by Bahru Zewde. 

Anteneh's story is part of MCAEL’S 15th Anniversary celebration; every month we’ll highlight some of the wonderful people at the heart of our coalition. Learn more about MCAEL and its mission here: https://mcael.org/. 

As told to Kristin O'Keefe

People of MCAEL - Meet Ana Packer

1 month 2 weeks 6 days 6 hours ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our seventh profile: Ana Packer.

“I tell my students how I felt when I started learning English: it was like wearing high heels, I wanted to take them off right away and be comfortable. Some of my students want to switch right back to Spanish. I understand, but they need to stick with it, practice. It’s a long journey, not months, or one year. They’ll get it! 
I can see how Montgomery County had evolved as a more diverse and inclusive society. As an immigrant who came 30 years ago, people were not always patient when I was learning. My first English words were useful ones: please, help, and I don’t know. If I see someone struggling to communicate in a store, I always offer to help. I remember. 

The teachers were not well paid in Peru, so I chose to study economics. Then I switched to Sacred Heart University and heard from the different professionals there and thought, I want to be a teacher, that is my path. 

In America I opened a home childcare; I also got my Master’s in Special Education from Towson University. Right after I finished I was wondering what was next, and four new children enrolled. One was my miracle baby with Joubert syndrome who learned to walk at age 3. I knew I was supposed to be there. 

Cecilia Rojas wanted me to teach English to adults at the Community Reach LOP program. I said I would volunteer and I really liked it—there was such a nice community there. After a year I said yes to a position and then COVID hit less than a month later. It was so hard during COVID; many people lost family members. We went to Zoom and I was unsure, I’m not so tech savvy. But then we went to a MCAEL workshop and you realize everyone is in the same position, we are all learning. Now we can all use it, and I can connect with family in Peru over Zoom! I’m on a MCAEL advisory group now.

After Spanish mass the church members gather and bring food, like tamales, pupusas and dishes from their home countries. We don’t have tortillas in Peru—if I’m bringing something it might be causa rellena, a traditional Peruvian dish that’s layers of potatoes and chicken salad. I have a prayer group with some members from Brazil, so I understand some Portuguese now.  

While the adult learners are trying to learn English, the little ones at childcare want to learn Spanish. They ask me ‘Miss Ana how do you say this in Spanish?’ One of their favorite words is gracias.”

As told to Kristin O'Keefe

Why I Teach A MCAEL Community Learning Group

2 months 4 days 6 hours 17 min ago

My journey as an ESOL instructor began in 2015 with tutoring citizenship students at Montgomery College where I also discovered the TESOL certification program. During the certification process, I quickly learned about MCAEL and subsequently found my first teaching position on the MCAEL job board and began teaching citizenship and advanced conversation at Briggs Center for Faith & Action for a couple years, including online during the pandemic.

In March 2022, I volunteered to facilitate a MCAEL Community Learning Group (or CLG) at a local landscape company.  MCAEL conducted the initial assessment of the employees and then provided the books/curriculum (Intercambio “Confidence and Connections”), along with teacher support for me since I had not ever taught at the “basic” level. 

This is one example of how MCAEL-sponsored CLGs can work in many different settings, including in the work place. Workplace ESOL classes empower the individual employees and benefit the company as a whole.  And workplace classes are an excellent opportunity to reach adult learners who otherwise would not have the time for language learning. As the owner of the landscape company put it: “it wasn’t going to work to find a church or community center close to them because they work sometimes 8-12 hours a day doing landscaping.”

And this CLG has turned the employer’s “vision into a reality.”  As the landscape owner/employer stated: “I wanted to be able to offer opportunities for my guys to learn English. I am so grateful to be able to pay each of them for three hours a week to sit in the office and learn English with such an amazing teacher as Stacy. She has been so generous with her time and the guys absolutely love her! I am beyond grateful to MCAEL and it gives me great joy to be a part of this process.”

As for the landscape employees/students in our CLG, they are quickly progressing through the “Introduction” book. In fact, the six men who attend class every Friday afternoon recently celebrated their 9 week milestone with great fanfare and discussion (using an interpreter to obtain feedback about the CLG):

Hector: “I’m remembering the English I learned 15 years ago more quickly with the classes.”
Geraldo: “I’m learning new vocabulary and how to say things correctly with the right sounds."
Santos:  “Class has encouraged me to start using Duolingo again." 
Will: “I’m learning lots of new words."
Daniel: “I’m learning how to enunciate words correctly that I didn’t even know I was saying wrong.”
Joel:  “Before I came, I couldn’t even tell people where I was from; now I can say my name, my age, where I am from and so much more!”

I’m not sure who is more grateful for this CLG experience…the employer, the employees or me!  But this CLG exemplifies the people, the power and the potential of MCAEL: propelling a community workforce to succeed through communication and learning together.  

- Stacy Parkinson
Chair, MCAEL Board of Directors

People of MCAEL - Meet Claudia Ramos

2 months 1 week 4 days 6 hours ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our seventh profile: Claudia Ramos.

“When I first came from El Salvador, I lived in Texas. Then my best friend from childhood invited me to visit her in Maryland. I came in February, and it was snowing; I loved it! She asked me to work at her childcare business and I moved here in 2008. I’ve been here ever since; now I have my own family.

Without English, you can’t express yourself here. I remember the early days when I would buy something that didn’t work or fit, but I didn’t know what to say at the return counter, so I’d have to keep it.

At first, I used to translate phrases from English to Spanish literally. For example, I thought ‘homesick’ was ‘being at home sick.’ The word we would use in Spanish is more like ‘nostalgia.’ My mother is a retired teacher in El Salvador; we connect over phone calls. I haven’t been able to visit since I left. The word ‘homesick’ describes how I feel about missing my family and childhood home.

My ESL teacher at the Ana Brito Foundation pushes us to do our best. I was about to give up because of my schedule—work, parenting and classes were a lot. She said that I was a good student, and she would help me. I like that she doesn’t go easy on us. She understands her students; she was an ESL student herself in 2003 and attended Montgomery College—she’s a good example for us. I also take conversation classes at the Gilchrist Center. Now I can review my daughter’s work and talk at the teacher’s conferences and doctor’s appointments.

My daughter is 7 years old. I didn’t want tech for her, I wanted books. When she was little, we would go to all the free story hours at the libraries near us—Damascus, Gaithersburg and Germantown. She likes stories about animals and is very caring; she wants to be a nurse or a veterinarian. She also loves dance; I practice my lessons in the car while she is in class.

When things feel hard, I remember that she is my purpose. I always wanted to be a successful woman—it’s important to take advantage of opportunities. Being a part of MCAEL’s learning panel was a truly great experience, and it was my ESL teacher who recommended me. Even though I'm always doubting myself, she is the one that encourages me to go further.

My daughter and I, we are both learning at the same time."

Claudia’s story is part of MCAEL’S 15th Anniversary celebration; every month we’ll highlight some of the wonderful people at the heart of our coalition. Learn more about MCAEL and its mission here: https://mcael.org/.

MCAEL Advisory Group Spotlight: Andy Lawrence

2 months 1 week 5 days 6 hours ago

Tell us a little about yourself and what was your entry point into Adult ESOL.
In the late 1980s, as I was about to enter my third year as an ESOL volunteer for the Montgomery County Department of Adult Education, the Program Director accosted me and pleaded: “I just had a teacher quit.  How would you like to teach a class?”  I swallowed hard, said “yes,” and was handed a teacher’s guide, a textbook, and a room full of eager students to teach.  Oh, how I wish that MCAEL’s Foundations for Adult ESOL Instruction Course existed back then.  Hopefully, my enthusiasm for teaching made up for what I lacked in skill in those early days.

Where are you now teaching (or working as an ESOL provider) (at what levels and for which organizations)?
At present, I am teaching a morning and afternoon beginning level class via Zoom for Montgomery College’s Refugee Training Center.  The majority of my students are from Afghanistan, and I admire their courage as they adapt to living in our area, including trying to master English, after their abrupt departure from their homeland.

What unexpected successes or previously unknow capabilities have you and the learners you serve experienced during the pandemic?
The desire to learn can easily negotiate around the disruption caused by moving from in-person classes to virtual ones.  For various reasons, nearly all of my Zoom students keep their cameras off, so I find that I need to be more systematic in ensuring that all students participate equally in class.  I make a special point to draw out shy students hiding behind blank screens and muted microphones, and I am gratified when I see these students make real improvements in listening, speaking and reading.

What role do you play in MAG [committees, roles]?
I am working with the Learner Leadership Advisory Group that is trying to institutionalize input of student voices into the MCAEL planning process.  Since students are our ultimate customers, it is very important that MCAEL take their views into consideration into course design and assessment methods.  It is far better to hear directly from students than it is to assume what their needs are.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
To me, there is no greater reward than creating a safe, collaborative classroom and watching students overcome their fear of making mistakes and gain confidence in their abilities to communicate successfully.  Many students are intimidated by classmates who seem to “outshine” them in their command of English, and I feel fulfilled when I see steady improvement from those who needed a little push before they hit their stride as learners.

What brings you joy outside of your professional life?
The joy that my wife and I get from travelling has largely been on hold during the pandemic.  While we went on a wonderful tour of Greece in May, we both tested positive for COVID upon our return to the Athens airport and had to quarantine for an additional week.  However, we are planning to spend the Christmas holidays on several of the Hawaiian Islands with both our sons and our older son’s wife.  

People of MCAEL - Meet Rachel Peric

3 months 4 days 6 hours 17 min ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our sixth profile: Rachel Peric.


“My grandparents were Holocaust survivors and refugees; community building and social justice have been part of my DNA for a long time. I was lucky to grow up in Montgomery County, where those values were communicated all around me. I was even luckier to attend the Spanish immersion program at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School, where multilingualism and interculturalism were valued as skills. We just applied there for our five-year-old but she’s 188 on the waiting list, which speaks to the unmet demand for multilingualism here in the county.

My people are the ones working to expand who belongs. I was running the Montgomery County United Way campaign when I heard about MCAEL. It was a time of major demographic shifts for the county, and serving as the first Executive Director of MCAEL was the job of a lifetime. I saw that English language learning was at the core of people’s ability to participate in the broader community, to be involved in their kids’ education, to thrive. And beyond the English language aspect there’s the communal experience offered by many of MCAEL’s member programs: being in a space where you encounter your neighbors, exchange ideas, and learn to survive together.

Montgomery County could have taken a singular approach and chose to fund one organization to provide all English language learning programming, but leaders recognized the importance of meeting people where they are and offering programming designed for a wide ranging diversity of residents—with this connective tissue of a coalition binding it all together. The early design of MCAEL set up a beautiful, democratic space for people to engage and collaborate. There’s a really vibrant community of learners, teachers and providers here. They reflect the multiracial, multiethnic character of the County, and by working together on a shared challenge, reinforce our solidarity while also tackling the cause of disparities head on.

Welcoming America, my current organization, focuses on the same kinds of things but at a more macro level. It’s connecting the people and organizations that are rowing together towards a world that is more just, where people can belong and thrive in the place we call home—no matter where we come from.

We don’t have to all be the same, but in a world on the move, we do need to figure out how to be neighbors.”

Learn more about MCAEL and our partner organizations here.

Meet Rivka Yerushalmi and Maimouna Ima - People of MCAEL

3 months 1 week 1 day 6 hours ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our fourth profile: Rivka Yerushalmi and Maimouna Ima!


Rivka: I have a full-time job with NIH; I also volunteer and teach ESL. I met Maimouna teaching ESL through the Literacy Council of Montgomery County. Then the pandemic hit, and in-person classes were canceled. There is a saying “Each one, teach one” by Frank Laubach, a founder of the ESL movement, that is a real guide for me. I offered to get together virtually with my students whenever they wanted to practice. Maimouna was the one who showed up, and we kept meeting online throughout the pandemic.

Maimouna: I felt very happy arriving in Montgomery County in 2020 and getting together with my husband, going to school … I met a wonderful, very nice teacher who is Ms. Rivka. But I was also sad missing my family from my native country, Burkina Faso. Then the pandemic hit. It was difficult for me staying at home all the time. The English classes and practice with Ms. Rivka helped me very much, it was nice to have a routine. I fully understand what she teaches me and the ways she explains the lessons. There are English idioms I found funny like: “Got a heart of gold” and “play it by ear.”

Rivka: The time I will never forget was when Maimouna sent me a message that she couldn’t meet that week—she never missed class. When I asked why, it was such a surprise!

Maimouna: The classes were online and Ms. Rivka did not know that I was pregnant. We stayed together 9 months in my journey of pregnancy. And then I sent her an email to let know that I just had a baby, so she was surprised.

Rivka: She only missed a week or two. That is how dedicated a student Maimouna is. She also got her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification and is waiting for the Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA) exam. The secret to success in ESL is showing up and engaging in class and doing the homework, and Maimouna exemplifies that. This year she also came to the MCAEL Spelling Bee with me.

Maimouna: My son Amine is 19 months old now, he is walking and running around. My husband and I speak sometimes English and sometimes French to Amine. The baby is curious about the computer and my school books… I have to put the books where he cannot reach them. Rivka bought books herself to send me. She also sends me the Easy English news each month. She is a very nice teacher--she’s got a heart of gold.

Learn more about MCAEL and its mission here: https://mcael.org/ #MCAEL15

As told to Kristin O'Keefe

Meet Halima - People of MCAEL

4 months 6 hours 17 min 52 sec ago

It’s MCAEL’s 15 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating with a “People of MCAEL '' series featuring first person insights and photos from some of the wonderful people involved in English language learning in Montgomery County, MD. You’ll find stories here and on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter; please share and use our hashtag #MCAEL15. We know this coalition thrives because of committed people like you; thank you!

Today we’re introducing our fourth profile: Halima Ahmed!

Halima at Montgomery College
“I can speak four languages; when I talk to my mother we navigate in Somali, Hindi/Urdu, and English. English was the first language where I was literate in reading, writing and speaking; Somali and Hindi are the languages where I best understand myself and the world around me. The first English word I learned was thumb; the first big word was scrutinize. Learning—especially learning a language—never ends. I’m studying Arabic now.

As a former ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student, I would tell new learners not to be shy about learning English, don’t deliberately try to change your accent. Embrace who you are and recognize that English is just another language.

I’ve lived on four continents. People think of home as a place where you have native ties. For me that is Somalia. But because of the war, we left when I was about three. We moved around the horn of Africa, lived in Kenya, and then were in India for about ten years before coming to America. The concept of home is strange for me because it transcends locality.

As children, our education was frequently interrupted; the focus was on how to survive from this moment to the next. My continuous learning journey really happened when I came to Montgomery County and enrolled at Montgomery College fifteen years ago. I went on to graduate with an associate degree in international studies. MC has a special place in my heart: it’s where my education was most consistent—and I got to explore different paths, learn with amazing professors and work with phenomenal staff who were of incredible support in navigating MC’s many options.

I completed a bachelor’s degree at Mount Holyoke College and a master’s degree at SOAS University of London. Now I work at MCAEL as the assistant director of programs. MCAEL is a capacity building organization and hub for literacy organizations in Montgomery County serving adult ESOL learners. We understand people cannot learn if they are sick, hungry, or worrying over a problem. So it’s not just ESOL we’re doing; we also hold network meetings to connect people to key resources, like help with taxes, jobs, immigration, food, and essential services.

I’m privileged in my life right now, but I’ve experienced extreme highs and lows. From my mother I saw that if you have something you need to pass it on—not just money but also how to navigate systems and identify help.

Because of my upbringing and moving a lot when I was younger, that need for community and relationship building was instilled in me at a very young age. That’s how we survived, that’s how we thrived—building community wherever we were. I find community here through MCAEL, as co-Chair of the African Affairs Advisory Group to the County Executive, and with my family in Germantown, MD and across the world.

As a black Muslim traveling, I tend to attract attention at airports. Once I was in the Mumbai airport with my family. My younger brother had a Tanzanian passport, my uncle had a Danish passport, my grandfather had a Somali passport, and I had an American passport. With the exception of my grandfather, we all speak English, but with different accents.

The security staff kept asking, “How are you a family?” I explained in Hindi that while we had to split off to different geographical places, we were still very much a family. Interestingly, it ended up being a positive experience when I spoke Hindi to the staff, as we were talking in a shared language which lessened the barriers and suspicions.

When I look at my family, it really shows me the world in a sense, all these different nationalities, cultures, and languages. These differences do not divide us; they make our bond that much more beautiful.

You can see Montgomery County through a similar lens—the light that is here in this county because of the different languages, cultures, and nationalities. As a student at Montgomery College, one of my favorite things was to watch the people get off the bus to go to class—here they were from all over the world, arriving in this one place for one common purpose: to learn. That’s beautiful.”

Halima’s story is part of MCAEL’S 15th Anniversary celebration; every month we’ll highlight some of the wonderful people at the heart of our coalition. Learn more about MCAEL and its mission here: https://mcael.org. #MCAEL15

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