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.

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