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Online ESOL Instruction Expands Reach of Spanish Catholic Center and Attracts New Students

Guest Post by Spanish Catholic Center

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington (Catholic Charities DC) serves anyone in need, regardless of age, ability, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Their mission is to promote the basic human rights, dignity and empowerment of all people. Guided by this mandate to serve all those who come to them for help, their approach in all of their programming is one of respect and empathy for all of their clients. During their last fiscal year, the agency provided critical social services to more than 192,000 under resourced individuals in Washington DC and the five surrounding Maryland counties.

Catholic Charities DC’s Spanish Catholic Center (SCC) has more than 50 years of experience in supporting the Latino and immigrant communities that call the DC metropolitan area home. SCC has become a critical lifeline for this underserved population by providing high-quality, culturally appropriate social and human services. Within each SCC program, staff work individually with clients to create unique service plans that address their interconnected needs while respecting the client’s right to self-determination. SCC takes a relational, culturally sensitive, and strengths-based approach, working collaboratively and compassionately with clients to identify their personal goals and address their barriers to self-sufficiency. Most SCC staff are bilingual and bicultural, and many are themselves immigrants from the home countries of the people served.

Since 1993, Catholic Charities DC’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program has been one of the leading service providers for limited-English proficient individuals in Montgomery County. Their ESOL courses, normally taught in-person at the SCC’s facility in Gaithersburg, provide educational resources that allow non-native English speakers to learn vital life and work skills. Prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, and with support from the Crimsonbridge Foundation, the SCC ESOL program had launched an innovative hybrid class model for high level ESOL students, with one class per week taught using Google classroom and the remaining instruction taught in-person in the physical classroom. All online work was facilitated and supervised by an instructor, and content was reviewed during the in-person classes.

Due to this successful online/in-class model, SCC was able to quickly and seamlessly transition all of their instruction to an online format at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to ensure the safety of  participants and staff while continuing to provide critical English language instruction to adult learners. Catholic Charities DC’s ESOL program was the first such program in the community to execute online instruction in response to the stay at home orders. Given their leadership in this space, other ESOL providers across the region sought guidance from SCC staff to provide online instruction solutions and strategies. Thus, SCC was able to help other community organizations quickly and efficiently transition their ESOL courses to online platforms.

“Virtual learning has its own learning curve,” said Laura Irwin, Catholic Charities DC’s ESOL Program Supervisor. “From having to learn the platform, to finding a space conducive for learning and teaching, both instructors and learners have had to adapt to this new model.”

As a result, SCC ESOL staff have become a valuable resource to many other organizations challenged with maintaining uninterrupted language instruction during the COVID-19 crisis. Their investment in digital equipment, which was made possible through the support of the Crimsonbridge Foundation, was critical to their transition to online learning. This technology allows them to provide students with comprehensive guided instruction and help other community organizations effectively serve their ESOL learners as well.

“We receive a lot of support from Catholic Charities DC,” one recent ESOL student said. “Of course, we’re supported by our teachers and our classmates, but we also get other assistance. With English classes, we learn a lot and we receive other services too.”

Moving their ESOL program to online-only instruction has also yielded benefits for the program’s sustainability into the future. Traditionally, SCC students have come from the area surrounding the SCC facility in Gaithersburg, where ESOL classes are held. However, given that students are no longer required to travel for in-person class sessions, SCC has been able to expand their footprint outside of this area to the larger Montgomery County community. This has allowed the program to increase the number of students it can accommodate at once. By reaching a greater number of learners, including those who normally would be unable to travel to an in-person class, they have been able to increase the impact of the support received from funders such as the Crimsonbridge Foundation and maintain a larger student base, ensuring the long-term stability of the program. To continue building upon this, the program piloted a virtual instruction language course this summer that it plans to continue even when classes eventually resume in-person instruction.

While most of their ESOL students emigrated from Spanish-speaking nations, others represent countries as diverse as Sudan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Togo, and the Ivory Coast. Using the comprehensive Step Forward curriculum from the Oxford University Press, students learn the grammar and vocabulary they will regularly use in daily conversations at home and in the workplace. Students practice what they learn through simulated conversations, preparing them for a variety of important real-life situations.

“The greatest success,” Irwin said, “is that with the new learning model, they have learned how to participate in virtual job interviews.”

Catholic Charities DC is extremely grateful for their partnership with the Crimsonbridge Foundation and its support of their ESOL program. As this unprecedented health crisis continues, a sense of hope is essential. And hope and support are exactly what the ESOL students find in their virtual classrooms with Catholic Charities DC.

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Countdown to our Future: Census 2020

Caitlin Furey Mayo

“The 2020 Census is here, and it is up to us to get counted and ensure that all of us, our families and our communities, are part of American’s narrative for the next decade.” – Stacey Abrams, Founder, Fair Count  

As the 2020 Census approaches its latest deadline of October 15, the Greater Washington region is inching closer to achieving a complete count, thanks to the work of community partners: Ayuda, Identity, Inc., Latin American Youth Center, Liberty’s Promise, and Mary’s Center.  These five organizations were part of the Crimsonbridge Foundation’s Bridges for Census 2020 program, which awarded $60,000 in grants to expand multilingual outreach work in engaging populations that have been historically undercounted in the census.

Developed by program officer, Caitlin Mayo, the Bridges for Census 2020 program is an outgrowth of the foundation’s Bridges and Bridges for Schools communications capacity building programs. Through these programs the Crimsonbridge Foundation has partnered with nonprofits, hospitals, and schools to leverage multilingual communications to connect families with resources that will support their success and full community participation. For Bridges for Census 2020, Mayo sought out nonprofit partners within the Crimsonbridge network who were not only committed to supporting a complete count effort that included the clients, families, and communities they work with every day, but had a history of successful outreach strategies, established relationships, and expertise in working with multilingual immigrant communities.  The work has been ongoing throughout 2019 and 2020. All of the organizations have adapted in response to COVID-19 in order to continue census outreach while keeping their staff and communities safe.  During the 2020 Census, multilingual outreach has proven to be a key strategy to ensure that all people receive the information and resources needed to get counted.  Innovative strategies have included lifting youth voices through educational podcasts, setting up census “pop up tents” in outdoor spaces to provide guidance while complying with social distancing measures, and creating multilingual video tutorials to distribute widely on social media and directly with clients. 

 All over the country, nonprofit organizations have worked tirelessly to get a fair and accurate count, which can only be achieved if the census data includes populations that have been historically undercounted.  Though the Census Bureau uses the term “Hard to Count” to refer to these populations, which include immigrants, people of color, and young children, the reality is that although the census is meant to count every person living in the United States, the systems in place to do so are inadequate, which in the past has left certain populations and communities uncounted.  This is where nonprofits step in to play a crucial role in obtaining a fair and accurate count.  

“We know that the census informs how government, businesses, researchers, and communities make significant decisions, including allocating political representation, opening or closing businesses, providing social services, and allocating funding for schools, healthcare facilities, and basic infrastructure.” said Mayo. “For our region to thrive, we need this information to be accurate and inclusive.”

 The census matters.  It is a source of power in the sense that information gleaned from the census can be used to build a more inclusive and equitable Greater Washington region.  The census will impact our region’s recovery from COVID-19.  During these last two days, get out the message – we all count

To see the response rate in your community, visit the Census 2020 Hard to Count/Response Rate Map!

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Innovative Outreach for the 2020 Census

Caitlin Furey Mayo August 2020

For more than 50 years, Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) has offered multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youths’ social, academic, and career needs.  As an organization with deep knowledge, established relationships, and expertise working with multi-lingual immigrant communities, LAYC is uniquely positioned to increase participation of typically underrepresented groups in the 2020 Census in the Greater Washington region. 

In early 2019, LAYC crafted a plan for census outreach that would leverage one of their most innovative programs – the Teen Center Media Program.  After researching the impact completing the census would have in their community, DC youth worked in LAYC’s Media Arts Lab to develop bilingual outreach material on census facts and myths and executed an outreach campaign in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.  When the COVID-19 crisis erupted in the spring, community organizations all over the country were forced to adjust their census outreach plans, many of which rely significantly on in-person networking and education.

In mid-March, the media program transitioned to a virtual platform and LAYC staff focused their efforts on the immediate, food, rent, technology, and mental health needs of the community.  Youth in the media program continued to meet virtually after school hours to learn graphic design skills. Many youth completed the work directly through their phones as they did not have computers.

As Lupi Quinteros-Grady, LAYC President & CEO, reflects on the last few months, she says “It is critical that our youth continue to be engaged and exposed to learning. More than ever, we must be intentional about ensuring our youth are connected and engaged so they can have a sense of community, support, belonging, and a safe space to learn and grow with their peers. The Teen Center Media Program has been one of these spaces for our young people.”

Youth designed bi-lingual census flyers to place in grocery bags that are delivered weekly to LAYC families. LAYC staff and youth worked to address the new challenges to completing the 2020 Census and even added podcasts to their digital outreach strategies.  Recorded by LAYC youth, podcast episodes focused on how the census intersects with race and immigration.  In the episodes, youth interviewed each other as well as people in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.  When asked, “Why is the census important to you?,” one youth participant shared her understanding of how the census will impact her community: “The census determines how much funding public facilities such as schools and medical centers in certain areas receive. Schools such as mine need funding to modernize and increase the quantity of materials like laptops and textbooks. Old laptops make it hard to get work done quickly and old textbooks don’t always have up-to-date and accurate information.” The interviews also highlighted the challenges that arise when completing the census, including difficulty navigating questions on race and ethnicity, as well as perceptions of fear and mistrust in the process.  Several youth participants shared that they had encouraged their parents to complete the census online and helped them through that process. 

Amidst novel and challenging circumstances, LAYC Teen Center staff and youth not only creatively kept media arts programming and their sense of community alive, they effectively elevated youth voices in “getting out the count” for the 2020 Census.  With the current self-response rate at just over 60%, we must all do our part between now and September 30th to ensure that every person in the country is counted.    

Listen to LAYC’s 2020 Census podcast episodes here!

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