More than the English Language

Mississippi’s Community Colleges Provide Supportive Learning Environments for English Language Learners

For some individuals immigrating to the United States, learning the English language can be challenging. However, the adult education programs at Mississippi’s 15 community colleges are prepared to meet the needs of students learning English as a Second Language (ESL). These community colleges offer robust, yet flexible programs that provide supportive learning environments for their students. 

Most importantly, students are connected to instructors that they can relate to. Many of the instructors have immigrated from other countries and have gone through the process of learning the English language. Three such instructors are described here and their stories emphasize the importance of ESL programs in Mississippi.

Renata Gil moved from Brazil to Jackson, Mississippi in 2001. She started volunteering for the Jackson Public Schools computer lab to assist GED and ESL students who came to practice their English. Now she teaches ESL at Hinds Community College (HCC). “It’s a passion. I love what I do,” Gil says. She says the program divides students into two levels to make them more comfortable learning. She encourages immigrants to join the program. “We welcome everybody. It’s imperative for [them] to communicate. Mainly what I focus on is listening and speaking because they have to be ready to go grocery shopping, communicate with their kids’ teachers. It’s just so important in real life,” Gil says.

Jane Nguyen-Campo is an ESL instructor for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). She says that she teaches students whose knowledge of the language varies significantly. “Some of them have been in the states for a few weeks but some of them have been here for a few years. We get a big difference in learning levels,” she said. The program does more than help students learn English. Nguyen-Campo says that ESL helps students become familiar with and integrate into American culture. Students participate in American holidays, learn about American history, and prepare to become candidates for American citizenship. 

“It is up to us to help them— to show and guide them where they want to be. ESL consists of so many things: language, culture, life skills,” said Gil. “For me, my students’ stories and backgrounds matter the most. It’s so important to listen to their stories.” She tells of how she spoke to an 80-year old student from China and asked her about her background. “I was a medical doctor, and I was studying the poliovirus,” the student shared. “ I was so impressed,” said Nguyen-Campo. 

Sonia Gonzalez is an ESL instructor at Jones Community College (JCC). Gonzalez has a Master’s degree in Modern Languages from the University of Mississippi and says she pursued her degree and career because she has a heart for English language learners. Gonzalez immigrated to the U.S. from Chile and she says her experiences help her relate better to her students. “I have people from China, people from Ukraine, people from Mexico and Venezuela. I have a bunch of people from other countries that are here because they want to have a better life,” Gonzalez said. In addition to learning English to become more independent, Gonzalez says her students want to learn to communicate with their children’s teachers and to find good jobs to support their families.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of ESL students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in Mississippi has increased significantly from 2000 to 2017 from 2,176 to 12,865— indicating an overall increase in families who might benefit from an ESL program at a community college.

Mississippi’s ESL programs are meeting the needs of immigrants and other language learners in our state.  The programs not only give students practical language skills but also prepare them for life in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more or want to find a program in your community, visit our interactive program map.

Quang Thai

Quang Thai headshot

Achieving Language, Career, and Educational Goals

Submitted by Jane Nguyen-Campo, ESL instructor, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
English as a Second Language (ESL) Adult Education at Mississippi Community College

Quang Thai began his ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in October of 2019, intending to master the English language. He achieved his goal through hard work and dedication. In a few short months, Quang reached an ESL level 6 and started on the road to furthering his education.

In the fall of 2020, he plans on studying electrical technology at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He has also enrolled in High School Equvialency (HSE) classes and is part of the MIBEST program for his training in electrical technology.

“Learning English is not easy,” Quang said while reflecting on his studies, “but it has helped me further my education, pursue my career, and prepare for the future.”

Qi “Ann” Zhang

Qi "Ann" Zhang standing in front of train

Learning English and Gaining Confidence

Submitted by Renata Gil, ESL instructor, Hinds Community College
English as a Second Language (ESL) Adult Education at Mississippi Community College

Qi “Ann” Zhang began her ESL education on January 27, 2020. She attended classes at Hinds Community College with her sights set on mastering the English language. She studied tirelessly and was an active participant in her class discussions.

In mid-March, her courses transitioned to online platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ann was not deterred from her goals. She continued to work diligently and spent six hours per week practicing and studying from mid-March to late June.

She was also an active member in her Civics English class, which combines language learning and lessons on American culture, and quickly began to see the rewards of her hard work.

“My English has improved greatly,” Ann explained, “And I obtained not only language learning skills, but also learned aspects of American culture. I am more confident because of it.”

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