Monday, August 15, 2011

English-language classes offered for Iraqi immigrants

A pilot program offering English-language classes to recent Iraqi immigrants began this week, the result of a partnership between the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral.
Two 3 ½  –week classes of 30 students each will be offered free of charge at facilities at the Rancho San Diego church, which primarily serves East County’s Chaldean community. One class will focus on preparing for community college, while students in the other class will learn basic language skills to help them enter the workforce.
The classes will meet from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday in the church’s education center, except for the final week, when classes conclude Aug. 30.
The college district’s Continuing Education program developed the classes as a start toward addressing a major need for additional English as a second language (ESL) classes for the thousands of Iraqi immigrants who have made their new home in San Diego County.
“These new arrivals desperately want to learn English so they can get jobs and become a vital part of our community,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “This is an important first step in helping them get the education that they need.”
The college district is providing the ESL-trained teachers and the workbooks, while the church is providing the space for the classes and recruiting students.
“We’re pleased to have this wonderful partnership with the college district,” said the Rev. Michael Bazzi of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral. 
Bazzi said the classes are especially needed for newcomers who quickly realize that English language skills are a must for self-reliance. The church does what it can, providing mattresses, blankets and fans for families with the $300,000 it has collected in offerings over the past two years.
            More than 10,000 Iraqi refugees have arrived in San Diego County since 2008, when the federal government eased restrictions that allowed them to immigrate to the United States. Many of those who come to San Diego County are joining family members who have lived in East County’s thriving Chaldean community for many years.
            The refugees quickly discover that jobs are scarce in San Diego County and almost all require fluency in the English language. The demand for ESL classes has overwhelmed English-language classes throughout East County, including at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.
In spring 2011, more than 80 percent of the 2,400 students in the district’s for-credit ESL classes were refugees and immigrants. An additional 1,900 students were put on waitlists for ESL classes that semester – with even more students seeking classes who couldn’t get on the capped waitlists.
The college-prep ESL class will help guide students with college application and enrollment, as well as how to acquire counseling and financial aid. The workforce-prep ESL class will assist with job skills assessments and also teach how to prepare a resume, search for jobs, fill out applications and practice for job interviews.
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has long been a leader in addressing the issue of how to best serve the influx of Iraqi immigrants who have come to East County. In November 2009, the district hosted a daylong symposium at Cuyamaca College to discuss the issue. More than 200 people from education, government, voluntary agencies and other groups working with the immigrants attended.
Miles said she is seeking funding from other sources so that more classes can be offered later.
“The need is clear,” she said. “These immigrants came to the United States because they want to be part of the American dream. We want to help them achieve that goal.”
For more information about the colleges and the district, go to