October 9, 2007

Job meets study

Posted in Community Education, English as a second language at 7: 30 pm by MK

One of the workshops I teach for Cornell U. Cooperative Extension (CCE) is a basic money management class.  I teach adults how to create a family spending plan, including how to create a budget, track spending, and reduce household expenses.  I work off a curriculum that was developed by the experts at Cornell University.  Of course this curriculum occasionally needs to be massaged to meet the goals of the group I’m teaching.  And today, this couldn’t have been more true.

I taught the workshop today to 15 people referred to me by the U.S. Committee of Immigrants & Refugees (USCRI).  As they came into the library where I was holding class, I realized that three of them had once sat around the table at A. & K.’s house as I taught English lessons.  It was great to see them, and I think they were happy to see a familiar face.  But I also quickly realized that the English literacy level of the group was quite low–it was going to be a very different kind of class.

Two translators from USCRI came with the group:  yes that’s right, I said two.  One woman translated what I was saying into Burmese.  Another woman then translated the Burmese into the “old language.”  Well that’s what I was told; I’m assuming it is another less-common dialect.  One of the translators informed me that the group had been in the U.S. for three months or less, and all were currently living on public assistance.  I quickly shifted gears and brought the level of the material down to a level that, I felt, would be most useful for them.  For example, we talked about what a credit card is before we talked about the pitfalls of credit card debt.  We talked about how to best use a food stamp allowance.  We talked about the expenses they will be responsible for once they are working and earning a living, and the pitfalls that can take their finances in the wrong direction.

It actually was a great class.  I’m sure it was a lot of information for them to digest, but they might as well begin to learn about the dangers of credit cards and Rent-to-Own now, before they get the applications/flyers in the mail.

I plan on doing more workshops with this group and other groups USCRI sends my way.  Next time I’ll be more comfortable knowing what parts of the class I need to focus on and what parts may not be relevant.  Time is also a large consideration.  With two translators, it takes a while to get through the material.  And much more time needs to be allowed for the group to fill in the sign-in sheet (we ask for name, address, phone number, local power provider and county of residence) and a student profile to be filled out anonymously with income levels, age, and ethnicity questions.  Most of the students needed one-on-one help in filling out the forms.  But I actually think this is good for them.  The more times they see Name, Address, Phone Number on a form, the more times they’ll recognize what they need to write.

Again, I was teaching money management and they were learning that and a lot more.

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