Leveraging Local Partnerships to Support Immigrant Integration

June is Immigrant Heritage Month. In recognition of the work the adult education community is doing to support the diverse linguistic and cultural assets of immigrants, OCTAE is featuring the following blog by Nancy Fritz, Assistant Coordinator at the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative.

My journey in adult education began in 1986 when I signed up as an adult literacy volunteer with Literacy Volunteers of America. With a longstanding interest in languages and having previously taught high school civics and history, I immediately loved it and I knew I wanted to work on the field of adult education and enrolled in some graduate classes. Like many ESOL instructors, I pieced together my work through part-time positions for several adult education agencies including at a public library.  Luckily, I was able to obtain a full-time position at one agency as a teacher and then as an Education Director.

For the past 4 years, I have worked for the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI). RIFLI was founded sixteen years ago when libraries began receiving increasing requests from recent immigrants for English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The Providence Public Library (PPL) responded by implementing a family literacy program at one branch library. The program has grown significantly since then and RIFLI now provides classes in six library systems, in the public schools to the parents of children, in businesses for employees, and in our local One Stop employment center.  We offer ESL, Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Transition to College and Career, Math, and Conversation classes.  RIFLI serves approximately 300 adults per year.

Partnering with libraries is a natural fit for any adult education program. Library staff personnel are extremely supportive of our programs and very willing to recruit new students and be a part of our educational opportunities.  With fast speed Internet, access to free resources and serving as a community gathering place, I only see unlimited potential of libraries and the adult education and workforce systems to address the educational and employment needs of adults.

With the support of the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), RIFLI, the Providence and Cranston Public Libraries and a diverse and committed set of partners developed the Adult Lifelong Learning (ALL) Access program. We have established Learning Lounges which provide staff and space for technology enabled and teacher supported learning for any adult who wants help meeting their education and/or career goals. ALLAccess also provides staff for one-on-one technology instruction, help with assistive technology, and Jobs Clubs. We continue to pilot and implement new services to help support adults.

The impact of these latest efforts has been huge. In the last year hundreds of adults have visited the Learning Lounges in our local libraries, and roughly half of the visitors are non-native English speakers seeking help with preparing for the National External Diploma Program (NEDP), studying for the Citizenship exam, writing a resume, and applying for jobs. These services have been especially helpful for people like Nilson Silva, a 41 year old native of Brazil. Nilson was a high school teacher of Portuguese, Spanish and English in his country. For the past two years, Nilson enrolled in RIFLI’s ESL classes, however, this year he is pursuing a Master’s degree in ESL at Rhode Island College. Nilson visits the Learning Lounge to advance his English skills and get assistance in doing research and in editing the many papers that he has to write for his program.

Not only have a large number of adults been  assisted in meeting their goals, but also the staff of RIFLI and the libraries have been energized by working together and with new partners, learning about each other’s goals and finding new ways to serve the community.  Together, we are leveraging libraries to innovate and integrate adult education and workforce services to meet the varied and diverse needs of immigrants and other adults in Rhode Island.

Nancy Fritz is the Assistant Coordinator at the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative.