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Center for Literacy opens doors to jobs and education

October 1, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This is a guest post by Melanie Menkevich, the ESL transition coordinator at the Center for Literacy.
When Leon Santos first came to Philadelphia, he encountered a lot of barriers that made his day-to-day life difficult and his future seem grim. Then, he came to Center for Literacy (CFL).

“Before Center for Literacy, my life was really tough,” said Santos, who emigrated from Brazil in the summer of 2016. “I had many barriers with job research, and regular basic communication. I didn’t have confidence speaking in English. CFL gave me this confidence to speak without fear.”

Santos had been looking for English classes for a while, but he felt defeated in his efforts to improve his English. Every time he took a test, he was told his English was too advanced for the classes. “I was looking for an ESL class to improve my English and assimilate to the American culture and language, and also to help me find a better job,” said Santos. “CFL was the only one able to help me achieve my goals.”

Santos isn’t alone. Other immigrants in Philadelphia are considered too advanced to take a free ESL class in the city, but still seek education because they want to improve their lives.

ESL instructor Song Han (standing) with CFL class members at the Peirce College location. (Courtesy photo)

“There are no other programs in the city that serve that level because those learners are considered to be ready for the workforce,” said Carolanne Mitchell, lead intake coordinator at CFL. So far this year, Mitchell has placed approximately 17 new students in CFL’s Bridge Program. These classes prepare highly-skilled immigrants for academics and the workforce.

And for Santos, they did exactly that.

After completing one round of Bridge to Employment and meeting regularly with the job counselors on the Student Support Services Team, Santos got a job at the very place that taught him the keys to job success in the U.S. – Center for Literacy.

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“CFL opened the door of success in my life,” Santos said.

And last program year, it opened the doors for 1,045 other adults. While 53% were non-native English speakers like Santos, 47% were native English speaking students, according to Chief Development Officer Robin Robinowitz. In addition to the Bridge Program, CFL offers other ESL classes, family literacy classes, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE), in 17 different locations throughout the city, including community schools.

Since 1968, CFL has worked to disrupt the cycle of poverty by providing college and career readiness for adults to succeed in postsecondary education to obtain knowledge-based jobs, and to support the education attainment of their children, according to its mission statement.

The first day of classes at CSL’s new location, Peirce College, with instructor Steven Hawkins. (Courtesy photo)

Part of CFL’s wide range of service is due to its role as a myPLACE campus. “myPLACE is an initiative of the Office of Adult Education to make it easier for adult learners to access placement tests and classes throughout Philadelphia,” Mitchell said. “Any adult who is interested in classes for ESL, GED prep, or just basic reading and math can call and make an appointment for an assessment test and be referred to any of the over 30 partner programs throughout the city.”

CFL is one of five myPLACE campuses, and they hold assessment sessions each week at their headquarters, and monthly at satellite locations. Prospective students from all over the city come to CFL because it’s centrally located at Broad and Pine Streets. After their test, they meet with intake coordinators, who will place them in classes.

“I do my best to give each student one-on-one attention and make sure they end up in the best class for them,” Mitchell said. “We start to talk about barriers to education and program goals on day one, which gives students an opportunity to have their voices heard and be more engaged in their education.”

Santos brings his experience as a student seeking services to his new role at CFL as an intake coordinator. He works with learners on identifying their own barriers to success. “As an employee and previous CFL learner, I know how important these classes are in our lives,” he said.

From the moment learners enter CFL’s doors to the time they’re ready to continue in their education or work, CFL teachers and staff are there to educate and support them.

“At CFL, we are able to give hope and knowledge to our learners,” Santos said.


Office of Adult Education

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