*Are you an ESOL Supporter?  WATCH OUR VIDEO HERE*


Organization Spotlight: Bethesda Chevy Chase (BCC) English Conversation Club

1 year 6 months 1 week 5 days ago
Bethesda Chevy Chase (BCC) English Conversation Club

For this month's spotlight, I reached out to Patricia and Noreen (bio below) to share with us about their English Conversation Club.

Can you describe your ESOL program?

This is the BCC English Conversation Club’s 10th year of drop-in meetings for people who would like to practice conversational English to increase their confidence and ease of communication. Participants meet in a conference room at the BCC Regional Services Center in Bethesda on Wednesday mornings for 1.5 hours of informative and scintillating conversation. We provide a friendly, hospitable atmosphere for participants to connect with each other and to learn about their American community. 

What are the demographics of learners, country of origin, occupation?

30-35 countries are represented annually – not all at one time – during the course of the year.  On average 10-15 people attend each meeting.  Many attendees have advanced academic degrees and are professionals in their home country.  They are dynamic, inquisitive and interested in sharing information about their own country and experiences in other international places.  

For readers who may not be familiar with your conversation club, what are some things you would like them to know about your program?

We begin the meetings with each participant talking with the whole group about an experience from the past week.  Then, in smaller groups, participants speak, listen and interact.  A timely topic is discussed with a prepared written hand-out with questions.  
An example:  We discussed gun control and gun rights terminology, providing definition and clarification of commonly heard terms. 

Can you share a recent success story?

Our success stories are the participants who have “graduated”: the Italian physical education instructor who was able to resume his career here – in English; the Russian accountant who began a new career as a medical records technician; the Tajik beautician who is pursuing a license as a US esthetician.  
But especially, the Japanese woman who has returned to her country with the understanding that the US values diversity.  At her last meeting with the group, she shared with participants her notebook of our topics with notations, and a map marked with participants’ countries to which she had been exposed.

Patricia has volunteered in different levels of Montgomery County ESOL programs. She attended a class in Montgomery College’s TESOL Certification program, supported by a MCAEL stipend.

Noreen has lived in many countries and can share experiences of different languages and cultures. 

Organization Spotlight: Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative

1 year 7 months 2 weeks 1 day ago

For this month's spotlight, I reached out to Georgia Portocarrero and Winanne Kreger (bio below) to share with us about the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative's (GBCI) English Conversation Group. 

Can you describe your ESOL program and how your organization came to be?

The GBCI English Conversation Group was started in 2012 by a group of Asbury Methodist Village (a retirement community in Gaithersburg) residents and two members of the Gaithersburg community, under the aegis of the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative. This is one of a number of programs GBCI has developed to foster collaboration and communication between Asbury residents and members of the surrounding community.
Volunteers from AMV and neighboring areas meet weekly for an hour with second language learners who come from Gaithersburg and Germantown to improve their English conversation skills.  When the group started there were five participants, who spoke very little English. As the group grew, it was split into two levels, one for beginners and the other for intermediate students. 

What are the demographics of learners?

The majority of our participants are women from Central and South America, although we have had learners from Asian countries and for several years the husband of one of our participants was part of the group.  Many of the women have babies and pre-school children who play in a nearby space while their mothers practice English.

For readers who may not be familiar with GBCI and your ESOL program, what are some things you would like them to know about your program?

Currently, the GBCI English Conversation Group meets for eleven sessions in the Fall (September-December) and eleven sessions in the Spring (March-June).  Participants are given a certificate if they attend at least eight of the eleven sessions.  
During each semester, we discuss topics that are generated by the participants and the volunteers.  We also invite speakers from the community to provide information about issues and resources of interest to the group. We have had speakers talk about immigration, gangs, nutrition and food banks, women’s health issues and public library programs, among other topics.
In addition to providing an opportunity for learning English and gaining information about community resources, this class functions as a place for participants to network and support one another.

Can you share a recent success story?

Milagro Rivera Flores, one of the founders of and first participants in the group, was very shy and spoke little English when she partnered with the AMV volunteers to organize the group and become the liaison between GBCI and the Gaithersburg community. Over time her English improved, she developed confidence in her ability to network in the community and started organizing workshops and events for her fellow immigrants. She also started Mujer Fuerza y Coraje (Powerful and Courageous Women), a group dedicated to mutual support and empowerment of women. In 2017 she received the MCPS Board of Education Distinguished Service in Public Education Award. In addition, she has recently received an award as one of the 100 top female leaders in the DC Metropolitan Hispanic community.  

Georgia Portocarrero taught at bilingual schools in Mexico and worked as an ESOL teacher for MCPS.  After retiring, she taught Workplace English for MCPS.  She has been co-leader of the GBCI English Conversation Group since 2015.   

Winanne Kreger worked as an internal organization development consultant and mediator for an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she worked with individuals and work teams across the United States and in countries around the world until her retirement in 2010.
Winanne has enjoyed working with this group since 2013. This is her first experience working with English as a Second Language learners. 

Organization Spotlight: Cedarbrook Community Church

1 year 8 months 2 days 16 hours ago

For this month's spotlight, we spoke with Barbara Goodno. Ms. Goodno is the Program Manager for Cedarbrook Community Church's ESOL Program. She’s been part of the program since the beginning, serving first as assistant director to Millie Walters, whose vision in 2004 was to bring English classes to adult internationals in upper Montgomery County.  Since that first year, Barb has also served as an intermediate and advanced instructor.  In her professional life she is a senior program manager for the government, currently serving as the associate director for online learning.  She is an avid volunteer who encourages others to join this marvelous team -- "you get so much more than you give!"

Can you tell us a little bit about your ESOL program?

Each Wednesday evening, from 7-9 p.m., Cedarbrook Community Church in Clarksburg, Maryland, offers conversational English classes for learners at five levels – from beginners to advanced. Planning for the program began in 2005 when a church member noted that many of the residents in the newly built neighborhoods in Clarksburg were adult internationals. Her work with MCAEL confirmed the need, and on September 2006, the ESOL program began. Since then, estimates are that more than 1,200 learners have participated in the classes.

What are the demographics of your learners?

In May at our last class, we celebrated our students’ achievements.  As part of that celebration, our decorated space included the flags of their home countries – last year there were 45 flags. So, to answer your question -- our learners’ backgrounds are quite diverse!  While many are from countries in Central and South America, we’ve hosted learners from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. During our break time (when the use of the heart language is OK), we hear Spanish, French, Korean, Vietnamese, Farsi, Russian – and others.  As for occupations, that is also quite varied.  In their home countries, many have had professional degrees; here in the U.S., they work in a variety of fields to include health care, childcare, education, management and landscaping.  Several of our learners are business owners.

For readers who may not be familiar with your ESOL program, what are some things you would like them to know about your program/s? 

Our program is filled with highly motivated adult learners – we learn so much from them!  This year, classes will begin on Wednesday, September 18 and will conclude on Wednesday, May 27.  There is no charge for the classes except for a one-time book fee of $24.  We offer a rolling registration; learners are welcome to join the classes at any time.  The first meeting begins with an assessment to help with placement – we work hard at offering a program that balances challenge with mastery of what they already know.  We follow the Montgomery County Public School calendar for vacations and weather delays and cancellation.  

Top five reasons our learners attend ESOL classes based on one of our internal surveys:

  • To speak English
  • Practice pronunciation
  • Listen and understand
  • Write to be understood (with correct grammar)
  • Read and understand more clearly what is written

Can you share a recent success story? 

There are so many!  The one that comes to mind immediately is our learner who started in our program as a beginner several years ago.  Now an intermediate-level student, this past October he took his citizenship test – and passed!  His classmates helped him prepare (by quizzing him – he had to know the answers, which he of course did).  Getting his citizenship was a long-time goal and it was a joy to share this accomplishment with him. 

MCAEL Annual Meeting June 19, 2019

1 year 9 months 2 weeks 6 days ago

Do you know what our County's priorities are?

Here's a cheat list from our network of providers:
•    Workforce Development
•    Community Development
•    Education/Language
•    Expansion Early education
•    Racial Equity
•    Public Safety

MCAEL hosted the Annual Meeting on June 19th where coalition members, providers, staff and board members came to connect and discuss the coalition's strategic direction, to hear from our partners on their successes and challenges and discuss ways in which we can support our collective work vis-à-vis the county priorities. We used the following questions to guide our group conversations:

  • How does the work of the network support county priorities?
  • How can providers/instructors/other partners support the MCAEL Strategic Plan Goals?

Key meeting takeaways:

  • MCAEL programs align and support all County priorities
  • Childcare is crucial to expanding ESOL in the county
  • Workplace based classes are the new frontier for ESOL class delivery
  • Strengthening partnerships with teacher accreditation programs will help us reach our strategic goal of 21,000 learners by 2021
  • English gives adults (and children) the tools to achieve their goals

Areas of opportunity/growth:

  • Teacher Turnover - Is there room to offer more pay to keep and acquire dedicated and committed instructors?
  • We need more funding to expand into Germantown, East County, Parkland
  • Can MCAEL offer workshops and professional development in Silver Spring, other locations?
  • How can we use technology to reach 21,000 learners by 2021?


Organization Spotlight: Family Services, Inc. - Thriving Germantown (TG)

1 year 10 months 3 weeks 3 days ago

For this month’s organizational spotlight, we spoke with Angelo Knox. Mr. Knox is the Program Director for Thriving Germantown since its inception in 2017. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Management and Leadership and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

Can you describe your history and how your organization came to be?

Family Services, Inc. (FSI) is a 111-year-old non-profit organization that is part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System (SPHS). FSI is one of the oldest and most enduring nonprofit social service agencies serving Montgomery County. The mission of the agency is to “promote the resilience, recovery and independence of individuals and families across the life span through integrated mental and physical health, social service, and education programs, thereby strengthening communities.” The agency provides direct service programs in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, community support, early childhood, school-focused services, and domestic violence. Last year, our programs served close to 13,000 individuals through 268,199 service units in Montgomery (MC) and Prince George’s (PGC) Counties. While we have a bi-county footprint, there are programs that either by location or design focus on specific regions, communities and/or schools.

Can you briefly tell us about the work Thriving Germantown (TG) does with Captain James E. Daly Elementary School (DES)?

With a staff of four Family Service Coordinators (FSC), TG provides comprehensive family risk assessments and develop intervention plans within a "pathways" model, offering concrete steps toward problem resolution and resource linkage.  Each FSC provides intensive case coordination services, which includes the following:

  • Home visits
  • Regular follow-up with the child and their family
  • Outreach
  • Advocacy with community resources

What are the demographics of learners? 

A combined 87% of our learners are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Our learners comprise of 79% female and 21% male. 

For readers who may not be familiar with the TG, what are somethings you would like them to know about your program/s?

Thriving Germantown (TG) Community HUB is a multi-generational, multi-sector care coordination project developed to alleviate the impact of poverty in the Germantown area starting with the Captain James E. Daly Elementary School (DES) Community. TG acts as a central clearinghouse that assess and tracks individual and family risk factors and establishes pathways for achieving measurable outcomes. Each FSC specializes in a specific risk area, which includes: Early Care & Education, Health & Wellness, Behavioral Health, and Household Sustainability (Economic Sustainability and Emergency Assistance).

Can you share a recent success story?

Angelica started with ESOL classes during the fall session and has continued taking classes throughout the entire school year. She has attended more than 80% of classes each session. Throughout the year, she has improved her vocabulary, pronunciation, and listening skills. Angelica has also reported more confidence in her speaking abilities and how she is happy to be able to speak with people in English in public places when she's out in the community. In addition to improving her English skills, Angelica has also become a leader in the classroom and other students often turn to her for additional support and help during class.

Organization Spotlight: Ana A. Brito Foundation, Inc.

1 year 11 months 2 weeks 6 days ago

The Ana A. Brito Foundation was born out of a sheer desire to serve and educate new immigrants. The foundation offers a plethora of services such as English classes (language program), computer programs, tutoring services, health and wellness among other things. Marta Brito Perez, Ana Brito’s daughter and the president of the foundation said about the language program that it was a “lifelong passion for mom and for Pastora Yolanda Pupo-Ortiz.” For this month’s newsletter, I spoke with Pastora Yolanda who shared with us about her journey to the United States, partnership with Ana Brito as well as how the foundation came into being:

I am a United Methodist pastor who came from Cuba to the United States in the decade of the sixties. Ana Brito, also from Cuba, and I met in 1983 and from that time on we became partners in our common desire to serve the immigrant community in the area. With the help of other church leaders, we began holding worship services in Spanish at the Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda. Among our activities, we included first, Spanish classes for the children, and English classes for the adults. In order to reach out to the larger immigrant population of the county, under Ana’s leadership, the English program was offered in different locations of the county, including Epworth United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, where the program is located today and where in collaboration with the church we became the Ana A Brito Foundation. 

Today the foundation serves the diverse population who reside in Montgomery County; the majority of the learners who attend classes are from Spanish-speaking countries. In addition, the foundation also serves students from Iran, Thailand, Korea, Liberia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Nigeria among other countries. The teachers and volunteers also represent a diverse group. Majority of the learners are women, many who are mothers with small children. While the parents are in class, the school-age children participate in the Children’s Enrichment Program which includes tutoring, childcare, and educational/creative activities. 

When I asked Pastora Yolanda what she would like for people to know about the Ana Brito foundation, she said: 

The most important message we want to give to our community is that we are here to serve the immigrant community. We are here to welcome and enable them to adjust to the country by learning the culture and especially the language. With an open arm, we are here and ready to receive the gifts they bring through their cultures, traditions, and skills.

When learners are able “to understand something their neighbors said for the first time” or comprehend what “their children have learned” at school then that is a marker of success for the language program, Pastora Yolanda noted. 

Organization Spotlight: Briggs Center for Faith and Action

2 years 2 weeks 16 hours 10 min ago

For this month’s organization spotlight, we spoke with Stacey Fannon. Ms. Fannon is the ESL Program Manager for the center. She holds a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2000).
The Briggs Center for Faith and Action funds and manages the ever-growing ESL initiative. The center engages people who share a passion for social justice and serving the disadvantaged. Briggs has several programs and services. The ESL Program is the central focus.

Briggs offers free, literacy-access, drop-in ESL classes to over 200 learners from 45 countries each year. Thanks to a host of dedicated volunteer teachers, Briggs offers English classes on Sunday morning, Tuesday evening and Wednesday & Thursday mornings. Citizenship classes are also offered. The purpose is to facilitate English conversation and socialization. The goal is for learners to become more proficient and confident in English. Literacy acquired will empower learners to achieve their goals and strengthen communities and workforces.

Classes aim to assist LEP-learners living/working in/near Bethesda. Briggs participates in a “Know Your Neighbor” campaign which seeks to welcome and help our neighbors in need. Historically the program has reached childcare providers, retirees, homemakers, international students and some men. The primary population served are women eager to develop English skills to improve their lives in America.

The top five countries where the majority of our learners were born in is China, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, and Italy. A small percentage of the students are also from countries like Poland, Tunisia, Argentina, France and Israel among other countries. The occupation of the learners ranges from childcare providers to teachers to homemakers. Based on our FY19 midyear data, we are currently serving 158 learners from 41 countries. 

All of our teachers are volunteers. Most of our instructors are retired educators, lawyers, and public servants who are passionate about immigration and social justice issues. Some hold full-time jobs (e.g. nurse, psychologist) with the flexibility to volunteer. Others are pursuing TESOL as a second career and wish to gain teaching experience at the Briggs ESL Program. 

Recent success stories:
One of Leslie Layne’s Beginning Literacy students, Giselle, started off the year knowing very little English. One of her goals was to get a job. Giselle recently informed Leslie that she got a job at a local restaurant. Giselle brought the menu into the ESL class to practice with her teacher and role-played ordering food. Leslie was so happy and felt proud of her student’s accomplishment. Giselle is grateful for Leslie’s help building her confidence and English skills needed to get the job.

The Briggs Center ESL Program offers citizenship and civics classes. Learners improve their English while gaining knowledge about U.S. history, civics and culture. The classes help prepare learners for the U.S. citizenship test and interview. Stacy Parkinson, MCAEL board member and Briggs volunteer, was elated when two of her students became U.S. citizens.

Since we offer drop-in classes, attendance varies widely. Instructors don’t know exactly how many students will show up on any given day. However, some students do notify their teacher if they know they’ll be absent. Sharing cell phone numbers, email addresses, and forming WhatsApp groups improves communication and helps instructors plan accordingly.

Our teachers have discovered that reading short stories is more appropriate for drop-in classes. Our advanced class is currently reading Great American Short Stories (Dover Thrift Editions). Reading full-length books in class can be a challenge, especially for students entering midway through the book. As a solution, before the new student begins class, he/she reads the part of the book they missed at home in their native language. Then, the student reads the rest of the book in English with the class. 

An exciting new project:
As an outgrowth of the ESL Program, the Briggs Center is in the process of creating an Immigration Services Clinic under the leadership of Ferew Haile. Last year, the Briggs Center became affiliated with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. The Briggs Center is awaiting approval from the Department of Justice to provide legal immigration services. 

Tips for recruiting and retaining volunteers: 
Volunteers are our greatest natural resource! The Briggs Center ESL Program recruits via word-of-mouth, email lists (neighborhoods, schools, churches), and websites (Briggs Center, MCAEL, Montgomery County Volunteer Center). I try to recruit teachers that live nearby. This makes it more convenient for them, so they don’t have to deal with a long commute or traffic.  I retain volunteers in many ways. If a teacher is unable to make a class, I help the teacher find a substitute (or teach the class myself – which is very fun and rewarding!). If a teacher has a good idea or resource, he/she shares it with me, then I share it with the others. I share what I learn from MCAEL provider meetings and internet research. Before or after class, or during a coffee break, I check in with the teachers to see if they need anything from me or if they can take any more students. When the teachers come to me with a problem, we brainstorm solutions together. I also give them homemade baked goods and cards around the holidays and at the end of the year to show them my appreciation.  

What motivates our teachers to volunteers:
Most of our volunteers are retired. They are looking to doing something meaningful with their time. I think volunteering with immigrants is their way of making the United States a welcoming place. I think they are motivated to teach because it makes them feel good and it makes the students feel good. The students teach the teachers just as much as the teachers teach the students! It’s a win-win situation!

For more information about the Briggs Center for Faith and Action, please visit their website

Interview by Halima Ahmed

Have you ever visited a local ESOL class?

2 years 2 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago

ESOL classes vary from organization to organization and one thing you may notice is the male to female ratio in a classroom. You might even notice the instructor is a woman. 

Male vs. Female
The local ESOL world is dominated by women. A look into student demographics in MCAEL funded classes reveals that there are significantly more women than men.
Some assumptions could be that women feel less inhibited from taking an English class or their schedules might be steadier than their male counterparts who often labor outdoors in construction or landscaping jobs. It might be easier for women to take classes. 
Instructors and administrators are often women. Public education K-12 also has a gender imbalance which seems to have translated over into the adult ESOL world. There are many retired school teachers in the MCAEL network who continue on to work in ESOL and this could account for the abundance of women teaching and administering adult English language programs.

There is a unique challenge to female learner persistence and retention centered around childcare. ESOL programs that offer childcare remove the barrier to learning for parents and moms. 

The National Institutes of Health have found that a mother's reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income. Work with women and mothers in particular, has an exponential impact in the community. A child’s first teacher is their mother – supportive services which include early education and childcare are key to preventing a cycle of poverty and to helping families succeed.

As we close out women’s heritage month we want to thank the women who are helping immigrant women succeed. We invite you to donate or purchase a bee ticket or letter to support the network of providers, instructors and learners in their continued work of supporting women in the community.

Five Nuggets for Improving Classroom Participation

2 years 1 month 4 days 16 hours ago

MCAEL recently provided a training session, led by Laura Irwin, to the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative (GBCI) English Conversation Group. The session focused on ways to improve English classes for the group. Below are five gems to improve classrooms by Laura Irwin:

  • Building community
  • The importance of having an organized lesson so that the learners know what to expect
  • Understanding the learners: what are their needs and what are their goals
  • Setting an expectation of what goals, you want to have for the lesson that is being taught
  • Having many opportunities for talking amongst themselves and talking in the group so that there is more speaking and less teaching.

Laura Irwin is the Program Supervisor for ESOL at Catholic Charities in Gaithersburg. She runs daily operations, provides teacher and class coordination and supervision, and tracks statistics. Laura is a bilingual professional with over 20 years of experience in education, administration, training, and ESOL instruction. She focuses on an understanding of the importance of personal interaction with learners, plus utilizes her areas of expertise in academic achievement, retention, registration, and language acquisition.

Organization Spotlight: Community Ministries of Rockville (CMR), Inc.

2 years 1 month 1 week 16 hours ago
Many people in the Montgomery County ESOL world know the face and name of Cecilia Rojas. Cecilia has been in the MCAEL coalition for at least a decade, attending workshops, meetings and serving on different committees. She is an advocate, a teacher and a leader. We reached out to her to share her story.

Cecilia began her ESOL career in 1993, she describes “I was approached by Agnes Saenz who was the accountant at Community Ministries of Rockville (CMR) at the time. CMR wanted to begin a Latino Outreach Program (LOP) with the goal of helping the Latino community learn English as well as other communication skills. I started as a volunteer Spanish Literacy Teacher and as a child tutor.” Seven years later she became the director of the Language Outreach Program.

In line with American Community Survey data, Cecilia reports that approximately 51% of learners come from El Salvador, 35% from Honduras, 22% from Peru. 28% are from other countries, primarily in Central and South America. Some Asians, West Africans, Haitians, Russians, and other Eastern Europeans. About three-quarters of her learners are female with a quarter being men. They have jobs in construction, landscaping, child care, and housekeeping.

Cecilia is a perfect fit for the demographic the program serves. As a Latina she understands the language, culture and backgrounds of the learners who come to LOP. When asked why she thinks so many of the students are female she says, “LOP offers free childcare and child tutoring for students. This is a great help for mothers who tend to have the responsibility of childcare in their families. LOP is the best choice for learners who cannot afford additional childcare costs and want the ease of childcare at the same time and location as their classes.”

Of the many learner success stories she has, one she remembers is the resilient spirit of Sylvia:

Sylvia was a baby when she came to LOP with her mother who was taking English classes. In childcare at LOP, she was introduced to some English words. Later, Sylvia received help with her homework through the program. She went to University for a degree in teaching and is currently working as a teacher with MCPS. Sylvia continues to study as well, and she will receive her master’s degree this year. She has returned to LOP as an English teacher in the Program.

In the story of Sylvia, we see the hard work and dedication of LOP learners. When asked what makes LOP programs unique, Cecilia says “free childcare and preschool readiness for children under five is offered as well as tutoring assistance for all school age children."

Students often have to navigate through multiple challenges in their quest of learning. By providing free childcare for those who need it, LOP makes it possible for mothers (and fathers), who would otherwise not be able to attend English classes.

For more information about CMR and the different services they provide, please click here.


MCAEL Network Videos


Finda an ESOL Class with MCAEL


MCAEL Meetings and Workshops for Providers and Instructors


Online Resources


MCAEL Calendar of Events


Find a Job or Volunteer with MCAEL


© 2020  |  privacy policy