//English as a Second Language Comes First at Shaker Library

English as a Second Language Comes First at Shaker Library

Ko’Nichiwa. Hola. Bonjour. Hallo. Namaste. Salam. Kamusta. Annyeonghaseyo. Czesc. Hello.

ESL students at Shaker Heights Public Library

Newcomers to a community can sometimes find it difficult to integrate into community life. Those from another country who don’t speak English can be overwhelmed. Fortunately, the Library offers a world of opportunity and a welcoming community through its English as a Second Language program, where no one is an outsider and everyone is welcome.

Tuesday evenings become international evenings when the ESL class meets on the Main Library second floor. People from around the globe connect with tutors to learn the English language and American ways. Some are here for a short time for school or work, and others are putting down roots. Many live in Shaker and others in communities across the East Side.

The late Brondy Shanker, an expert reading teacher and Shaker resident, launched the ESL program at the library 25 years ago. Since 2015, Carolyn Steiner has led the program with help from enthusiastic volunteers who use Brondy’s Magic Reading Patterns curriculum for teaching vocabulary. ESL tutors find the curriculum easy to use and Steiner is seeking ways to share Brondy’s work and teaching model with more ESL groups. Steiner keeps a rolling suitcase stocked with stories at various reading levels, and is busy designing a more easily replicated system.

Teaching ESL at the Library offers many rewards. Steiner is enthusiastic about meeting, teaching, and learning from people from around the world, and building a loving community in the classroom. “Teaching ESL is a great way to tie together so many of my passions,” says Steiner. Those passions include welcoming people from all over the world, brushing up on languages, teaching, and advocating for underserved populations, paying tribute to her mentor Brondy Shanker, and recruiting and working with dedicated volunteer tutors.

I’m in awe of the hard-working students I see, week after week. In a troubled world, it’s enriching to reach out and connect. We are finding common ground – and having fun too.

Tutors have helped students of all different levels of fluency in English, and have also taught American-born students, children, and adults, who wanted extra practice learning to read. Many of the current tutors volunteer through Friends of the Shaker Library’s affiliation with the Greater Cleveland Volunteers. They include Bob Lanese, Janet Reinke, Judy Solanche, Sarah Hollander, Sheri Lawrence, and Dawn Wilson.

Tutor Kathy Elder says, “The stories we use in the program at the Library present different aspects of English in such an entertaining way that the classes are a lot of fun.”

Emily Griffin tutors for two reasons. One is that she spent some time abroad in college. “If it weren’t for native speakers slowing things down for me and getting me familiar with the language, I would have felt a lot more lost than I did. So this is paying it back in a small way.” Griffin enjoys seeing families come to ESL class to learn together. “They are my favorite kind of students.”

Steiner personally recruited her good friend and Onaway resident, Dana Murphy, who says, “I’m passionate about our Library being a place for all. I’m happy to welcome our ESL students and make them feel at home in our community. As a tutor, I’m in awe of the hard-working students I see, week after week. In a troubled world, it’s enriching to reach out and connect. We are finding common ground – and having fun too.”

Lomond resident Michele Lachman learned about the program during a visit to the Library. Her father was born in Russia and emigrated to the U.S. when he was five years old. He learned to speak English in Detroit public schools, and, like many immigrant children, acted as interpreter for his parents. “I would like to offer new immigrants the same kind of help my father was so grateful for,” Lachman says.

When Dr. Nabila Rizk-Awais retired from her medical practice, she explored volunteering. She’s happy she chose to get involved with the program as she has enjoyed meeting many students with interesting backgrounds who are eager to learn. Steiner is thankful for the dedicated ESL volunteers who excel at creating a welcoming environment and providing an encouraging teaching style. “They are flexible, fun, and committed to a weekly volunteer schedule.”

In August 2016, Steiner began keeping a list of all the countries the students hail from and the list keeps growing. So far, she counts students from every continent, except for Australia and Antarctica. ESL tutors have taught students from Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Puerto Rico, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, Syria, Togo, Turkey, Venezuela, and Vietnam.