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MCAEL Annual Meeting June 19, 2019

3 years 7 months 1 week 12 hours ago

Do you know what our County's priorities are?

Here's a cheat list from our network of providers:
•    Workforce Development
•    Community Development
•    Education/Language
•    Expansion Early education
•    Racial Equity
•    Public Safety

MCAEL hosted the Annual Meeting on June 19th where coalition members, providers, staff and board members came to connect and discuss the coalition's strategic direction, to hear from our partners on their successes and challenges and discuss ways in which we can support our collective work vis-à-vis the county priorities. We used the following questions to guide our group conversations:

  • How does the work of the network support county priorities?
  • How can providers/instructors/other partners support the MCAEL Strategic Plan Goals?

Key meeting takeaways:

  • MCAEL programs align and support all County priorities
  • Childcare is crucial to expanding ESOL in the county
  • Workplace based classes are the new frontier for ESOL class delivery
  • Strengthening partnerships with teacher accreditation programs will help us reach our strategic goal of 21,000 learners by 2021
  • English gives adults (and children) the tools to achieve their goals

Areas of opportunity/growth:

  • Teacher Turnover - Is there room to offer more pay to keep and acquire dedicated and committed instructors?
  • We need more funding to expand into Germantown, East County, Parkland
  • Can MCAEL offer workshops and professional development in Silver Spring, other locations?
  • How can we use technology to reach 21,000 learners by 2021?


Organization Spotlight: Family Services, Inc. - Thriving Germantown (TG)

3 years 8 months 1 week 4 days ago

For this month’s organizational spotlight, we spoke with Angelo Knox. Mr. Knox is the Program Director for Thriving Germantown since its inception in 2017. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Management and Leadership and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

Can you describe your history and how your organization came to be?

Family Services, Inc. (FSI) is a 111-year-old non-profit organization that is part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System (SPHS). FSI is one of the oldest and most enduring nonprofit social service agencies serving Montgomery County. The mission of the agency is to “promote the resilience, recovery and independence of individuals and families across the life span through integrated mental and physical health, social service, and education programs, thereby strengthening communities.” The agency provides direct service programs in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, community support, early childhood, school-focused services, and domestic violence. Last year, our programs served close to 13,000 individuals through 268,199 service units in Montgomery (MC) and Prince George’s (PGC) Counties. While we have a bi-county footprint, there are programs that either by location or design focus on specific regions, communities and/or schools.

Can you briefly tell us about the work Thriving Germantown (TG) does with Captain James E. Daly Elementary School (DES)?

With a staff of four Family Service Coordinators (FSC), TG provides comprehensive family risk assessments and develop intervention plans within a "pathways" model, offering concrete steps toward problem resolution and resource linkage.  Each FSC provides intensive case coordination services, which includes the following:

  • Home visits
  • Regular follow-up with the child and their family
  • Outreach
  • Advocacy with community resources

What are the demographics of learners? 

A combined 87% of our learners are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Our learners comprise of 79% female and 21% male. 

For readers who may not be familiar with the TG, what are somethings you would like them to know about your program/s?

Thriving Germantown (TG) Community HUB is a multi-generational, multi-sector care coordination project developed to alleviate the impact of poverty in the Germantown area starting with the Captain James E. Daly Elementary School (DES) Community. TG acts as a central clearinghouse that assess and tracks individual and family risk factors and establishes pathways for achieving measurable outcomes. Each FSC specializes in a specific risk area, which includes: Early Care & Education, Health & Wellness, Behavioral Health, and Household Sustainability (Economic Sustainability and Emergency Assistance).

Can you share a recent success story?

Angelica started with ESOL classes during the fall session and has continued taking classes throughout the entire school year. She has attended more than 80% of classes each session. Throughout the year, she has improved her vocabulary, pronunciation, and listening skills. Angelica has also reported more confidence in her speaking abilities and how she is happy to be able to speak with people in English in public places when she's out in the community. In addition to improving her English skills, Angelica has also become a leader in the classroom and other students often turn to her for additional support and help during class.

Organization Spotlight: Ana A. Brito Foundation, Inc.

3 years 9 months 1 week 12 hours ago

The Ana A. Brito Foundation was born out of a sheer desire to serve and educate new immigrants. The foundation offers a plethora of services such as English classes (language program), computer programs, tutoring services, health and wellness among other things. Marta Brito Perez, Ana Brito’s daughter and the president of the foundation said about the language program that it was a “lifelong passion for mom and for Pastora Yolanda Pupo-Ortiz.” For this month’s newsletter, I spoke with Pastora Yolanda who shared with us about her journey to the United States, partnership with Ana Brito as well as how the foundation came into being:

I am a United Methodist pastor who came from Cuba to the United States in the decade of the sixties. Ana Brito, also from Cuba, and I met in 1983 and from that time on we became partners in our common desire to serve the immigrant community in the area. With the help of other church leaders, we began holding worship services in Spanish at the Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda. Among our activities, we included first, Spanish classes for the children, and English classes for the adults. In order to reach out to the larger immigrant population of the county, under Ana’s leadership, the English program was offered in different locations of the county, including Epworth United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, where the program is located today and where in collaboration with the church we became the Ana A Brito Foundation. 

Today the foundation serves the diverse population who reside in Montgomery County; the majority of the learners who attend classes are from Spanish-speaking countries. In addition, the foundation also serves students from Iran, Thailand, Korea, Liberia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Nigeria among other countries. The teachers and volunteers also represent a diverse group. Majority of the learners are women, many who are mothers with small children. While the parents are in class, the school-age children participate in the Children’s Enrichment Program which includes tutoring, childcare, and educational/creative activities. 

When I asked Pastora Yolanda what she would like for people to know about the Ana Brito foundation, she said: 

The most important message we want to give to our community is that we are here to serve the immigrant community. We are here to welcome and enable them to adjust to the country by learning the culture and especially the language. With an open arm, we are here and ready to receive the gifts they bring through their cultures, traditions, and skills.

When learners are able “to understand something their neighbors said for the first time” or comprehend what “their children have learned” at school then that is a marker of success for the language program, Pastora Yolanda noted. 

Organization Spotlight: Briggs Center for Faith and Action

3 years 10 months 6 days 12 hours ago

For this month’s organization spotlight, we spoke with Stacey Fannon. Ms. Fannon is the ESL Program Manager for the center. She holds a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2000).
The Briggs Center for Faith and Action funds and manages the ever-growing ESL initiative. The center engages people who share a passion for social justice and serving the disadvantaged. Briggs has several programs and services. The ESL Program is the central focus.

Briggs offers free, literacy-access, drop-in ESL classes to over 200 learners from 45 countries each year. Thanks to a host of dedicated volunteer teachers, Briggs offers English classes on Sunday morning, Tuesday evening and Wednesday & Thursday mornings. Citizenship classes are also offered. The purpose is to facilitate English conversation and socialization. The goal is for learners to become more proficient and confident in English. Literacy acquired will empower learners to achieve their goals and strengthen communities and workforces.

Classes aim to assist LEP-learners living/working in/near Bethesda. Briggs participates in a “Know Your Neighbor” campaign which seeks to welcome and help our neighbors in need. Historically the program has reached childcare providers, retirees, homemakers, international students and some men. The primary population served are women eager to develop English skills to improve their lives in America.

The top five countries where the majority of our learners were born in is China, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, and Italy. A small percentage of the students are also from countries like Poland, Tunisia, Argentina, France and Israel among other countries. The occupation of the learners ranges from childcare providers to teachers to homemakers. Based on our FY19 midyear data, we are currently serving 158 learners from 41 countries. 

All of our teachers are volunteers. Most of our instructors are retired educators, lawyers, and public servants who are passionate about immigration and social justice issues. Some hold full-time jobs (e.g. nurse, psychologist) with the flexibility to volunteer. Others are pursuing TESOL as a second career and wish to gain teaching experience at the Briggs ESL Program. 

Recent success stories:
One of Leslie Layne’s Beginning Literacy students, Giselle, started off the year knowing very little English. One of her goals was to get a job. Giselle recently informed Leslie that she got a job at a local restaurant. Giselle brought the menu into the ESL class to practice with her teacher and role-played ordering food. Leslie was so happy and felt proud of her student’s accomplishment. Giselle is grateful for Leslie’s help building her confidence and English skills needed to get the job.

The Briggs Center ESL Program offers citizenship and civics classes. Learners improve their English while gaining knowledge about U.S. history, civics and culture. The classes help prepare learners for the U.S. citizenship test and interview. Stacy Parkinson, MCAEL board member and Briggs volunteer, was elated when two of her students became U.S. citizens.

Since we offer drop-in classes, attendance varies widely. Instructors don’t know exactly how many students will show up on any given day. However, some students do notify their teacher if they know they’ll be absent. Sharing cell phone numbers, email addresses, and forming WhatsApp groups improves communication and helps instructors plan accordingly.

Our teachers have discovered that reading short stories is more appropriate for drop-in classes. Our advanced class is currently reading Great American Short Stories (Dover Thrift Editions). Reading full-length books in class can be a challenge, especially for students entering midway through the book. As a solution, before the new student begins class, he/she reads the part of the book they missed at home in their native language. Then, the student reads the rest of the book in English with the class. 

An exciting new project:
As an outgrowth of the ESL Program, the Briggs Center is in the process of creating an Immigration Services Clinic under the leadership of Ferew Haile. Last year, the Briggs Center became affiliated with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. The Briggs Center is awaiting approval from the Department of Justice to provide legal immigration services. 

Tips for recruiting and retaining volunteers: 
Volunteers are our greatest natural resource! The Briggs Center ESL Program recruits via word-of-mouth, email lists (neighborhoods, schools, churches), and websites (Briggs Center, MCAEL, Montgomery County Volunteer Center). I try to recruit teachers that live nearby. This makes it more convenient for them, so they don’t have to deal with a long commute or traffic.  I retain volunteers in many ways. If a teacher is unable to make a class, I help the teacher find a substitute (or teach the class myself – which is very fun and rewarding!). If a teacher has a good idea or resource, he/she shares it with me, then I share it with the others. I share what I learn from MCAEL provider meetings and internet research. Before or after class, or during a coffee break, I check in with the teachers to see if they need anything from me or if they can take any more students. When the teachers come to me with a problem, we brainstorm solutions together. I also give them homemade baked goods and cards around the holidays and at the end of the year to show them my appreciation.  

What motivates our teachers to volunteers:
Most of our volunteers are retired. They are looking to doing something meaningful with their time. I think volunteering with immigrants is their way of making the United States a welcoming place. I think they are motivated to teach because it makes them feel good and it makes the students feel good. The students teach the teachers just as much as the teachers teach the students! It’s a win-win situation!

For more information about the Briggs Center for Faith and Action, please visit their website

Interview by Halima Ahmed

Have you ever visited a local ESOL class?

3 years 10 months 1 week 12 hours ago

ESOL classes vary from organization to organization and one thing you may notice is the male to female ratio in a classroom. You might even notice the instructor is a woman. 

Male vs. Female
The local ESOL world is dominated by women. A look into student demographics in MCAEL funded classes reveals that there are significantly more women than men.
Some assumptions could be that women feel less inhibited from taking an English class or their schedules might be steadier than their male counterparts who often labor outdoors in construction or landscaping jobs. It might be easier for women to take classes. 
Instructors and administrators are often women. Public education K-12 also has a gender imbalance which seems to have translated over into the adult ESOL world. There are many retired school teachers in the MCAEL network who continue on to work in ESOL and this could account for the abundance of women teaching and administering adult English language programs.

There is a unique challenge to female learner persistence and retention centered around childcare. ESOL programs that offer childcare remove the barrier to learning for parents and moms. 

The National Institutes of Health have found that a mother's reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income. Work with women and mothers in particular, has an exponential impact in the community. A child’s first teacher is their mother – supportive services which include early education and childcare are key to preventing a cycle of poverty and to helping families succeed.

As we close out women’s heritage month we want to thank the women who are helping immigrant women succeed. We invite you to donate or purchase a bee ticket or letter to support the network of providers, instructors and learners in their continued work of supporting women in the community.

Five Nuggets for Improving Classroom Participation

3 years 10 months 3 weeks 5 days ago

MCAEL recently provided a training session, led by Laura Irwin, to the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative (GBCI) English Conversation Group. The session focused on ways to improve English classes for the group. Below are five gems to improve classrooms by Laura Irwin:

  • Building community
  • The importance of having an organized lesson so that the learners know what to expect
  • Understanding the learners: what are their needs and what are their goals
  • Setting an expectation of what goals, you want to have for the lesson that is being taught
  • Having many opportunities for talking amongst themselves and talking in the group so that there is more speaking and less teaching.

Laura Irwin is the Program Supervisor for ESOL at Catholic Charities in Gaithersburg. She runs daily operations, provides teacher and class coordination and supervision, and tracks statistics. Laura is a bilingual professional with over 20 years of experience in education, administration, training, and ESOL instruction. She focuses on an understanding of the importance of personal interaction with learners, plus utilizes her areas of expertise in academic achievement, retention, registration, and language acquisition.

Organization Spotlight: Community Ministries of Rockville (CMR), Inc.

3 years 10 months 4 weeks 1 day ago
Many people in the Montgomery County ESOL world know the face and name of Cecilia Rojas. Cecilia has been in the MCAEL coalition for at least a decade, attending workshops, meetings and serving on different committees. She is an advocate, a teacher and a leader. We reached out to her to share her story.

Cecilia began her ESOL career in 1993, she describes “I was approached by Agnes Saenz who was the accountant at Community Ministries of Rockville (CMR) at the time. CMR wanted to begin a Latino Outreach Program (LOP) with the goal of helping the Latino community learn English as well as other communication skills. I started as a volunteer Spanish Literacy Teacher and as a child tutor.” Seven years later she became the director of the Language Outreach Program.

In line with American Community Survey data, Cecilia reports that approximately 51% of learners come from El Salvador, 35% from Honduras, 22% from Peru. 28% are from other countries, primarily in Central and South America. Some Asians, West Africans, Haitians, Russians, and other Eastern Europeans. About three-quarters of her learners are female with a quarter being men. They have jobs in construction, landscaping, child care, and housekeeping.

Cecilia is a perfect fit for the demographic the program serves. As a Latina she understands the language, culture and backgrounds of the learners who come to LOP. When asked why she thinks so many of the students are female she says, “LOP offers free childcare and child tutoring for students. This is a great help for mothers who tend to have the responsibility of childcare in their families. LOP is the best choice for learners who cannot afford additional childcare costs and want the ease of childcare at the same time and location as their classes.”

Of the many learner success stories she has, one she remembers is the resilient spirit of Sylvia:

Sylvia was a baby when she came to LOP with her mother who was taking English classes. In childcare at LOP, she was introduced to some English words. Later, Sylvia received help with her homework through the program. She went to University for a degree in teaching and is currently working as a teacher with MCPS. Sylvia continues to study as well, and she will receive her master’s degree this year. She has returned to LOP as an English teacher in the Program.

In the story of Sylvia, we see the hard work and dedication of LOP learners. When asked what makes LOP programs unique, Cecilia says “free childcare and preschool readiness for children under five is offered as well as tutoring assistance for all school age children."

Students often have to navigate through multiple challenges in their quest of learning. By providing free childcare for those who need it, LOP makes it possible for mothers (and fathers), who would otherwise not be able to attend English classes.

For more information about CMR and the different services they provide, please click here.

What's Your Motivation? by Kathy Stevens, Executive Director

3 years 11 months 12 hours 25 min ago

Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Dr. Stephen Covey). 

This seems like a very easy concept, but how many times in a day do we start from the opposite direction in trying to "get our work done."  We often say this is what I need you to know and this is what I need to do as a starting point; and then we wonder why we are met with resistance at best, or sometimes just ignored at worst.  I was thinking about this last week when I was lucky enough to have time in my schedule to have face to face meetings (two of which were even over a meal!) with people who I work with, know pretty well, but had not had time recently to ask what they were working on and what they were most interested in trying to do.  With time and space to have that conversation, in each instance we came up with some really interesting areas where our motivations were overlapping.  In the moment, once we knew we had aligned motivations, our creative juices were flowing to identify some next steps and ideas we could work on together.

This idea translates into the work that adult ESOL instructors do to.  With the providers in the MCAEL network, we know that learner centered instruction is key.  We base this on  research, such as:

Motivation is “why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, [and] how hard they are going to pursue it”
(Dornyei, 2002, p. 8). In this respect, it is also important to remember that adult ESL students in community programs are a shifting population; they move and change jobs often, and their motivation to learn ESL also transforms  and evolves with the changes they face in their lives outside the classroom. As stated by Dornyei and Kormos (2000), motivation is not static; it may change from day to day, from task to task, and from learning community to learning community. (Schwarzer, David. (2009). Best practices for teaching the “whole” adult ESL learner. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 2009. 25 - 33. 10.1002/ace.322. )

Teaching English to adults is not a static practice and as we all continue to refine what we do, understanding the motivations of our learners and partners is key to our success.

An innovative partnership brings ESOL home.

3 years 11 months 2 weeks 11 hours ago

The Ethiopian Community Center (ECC) has been in the MCAEL coalition for many years and in operation in the community for forty. As of 2018, the organization became a MCAEL grantee. With grant funding the ECC is providing vocational English literacy classes to Montgomery County’s limited English proficient (LEP) African immigrant residents who live in Takoma Park’s Maple Avenue corridor. 

Organizations like the ECC are serving an under-served population using innovative partnerships. Partnering with the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) an affiliate of Enterprise Homes, English classes are being held in an apartment building called The Essex House. The Essex House is home to over 400 residents and a predominantly African immigrant population. This innovative place-based approach meets learners where they are - in the home, removing any of the usual barriers a learner might encounter: distance, transportation, and time.

CPDC Resident Services Coordinator Seble Seyoum shares:
“Through direct engagement and resident feedback, CPDC has observed limited English proficiency as being one of the most significant barriers to economic security for Essex House residents who are predominantly African immigrants, with a significant Ethiopian population. Essex House community is located along Maple Avenue, home to an even more extensive African immigrant community. When ECC approached us and said they were interested in providing English classes to Takoma Park residents, we saw this as a perfect fit. ECC’s has a long history of providing quality English Language and job readiness programming to African Immigrants in the DMV and the population has responded positively.  ECC currently implements weekly English classes at CPDC through funding received by MCAEL. These classes are open to all, so we are able to serve CPDC residents and also impact the greater community which is along with CPDC’s mission. We have seen that these classes are meeting the demand of the community, with 47 students registering for the program since September 2018.  The feedback from students and response from the community has been positive as we are addressing one of the many challenges faced by a large percentage of Takoma Park residents. English classes not only better prepare adults, but it has a direct IMPACT on the children of these families as parents gain essential resources to help which assist their children to thrive in school and life.”

By leveraging resources and partnerships, ECC & CPDC are a great example of how we can expand English classes in Montgomery County in ways that make sense and that meets learners where they are.

Organization Spotlight: Ethiopian Community Center (ECC), Inc.

3 years 12 months 1 day 11 hours ago

The Ethiopian Community Center (ECC) has been providing English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for African immigrants for over a decade. As an established organization which has been in existence for close to 40 years, the ECC is in a strong position to help us understand their community. As a grantee for fiscal year 2019 – we asked the ECC to help us share their story:

Can you describe your history and how your organization came to be?
An estimated 350,000 Ethiopians have made the DMV area their home. Prior to 1980 many Ethiopians came as students, diplomats and visitors. Due to military conflicts in the late 1970’s Ethiopian migration to the DMV area increased. The DMV saw a large influx of Ethiopians affected by displacement coming as refugees and political asylees. Established in 1980, The Ethiopian Community Center was created to address the single and important issue of settlement and adaptation. The main objective was to help the new arrivals settle and make a smooth transition into the community. 

As an established organization in the African community, can you describe the Ethiopian community?
Today Montgomery County is home to one of the largest African-born populations in the US, second to Bronx County in NY. Ethiopians represent the fourth largest foreign-born population in MC, and the top country of origin for African immigrants. While desegregated county-level data specific to the African or Ethiopian population is unavailable, regional trends show high rates of limited English proficiency among Ethiopians. Up to 53% of Amharic speakers are limited English proficient, and a large number of households are linguistically isolated with no English-speaking adult in the household. Given this population’s strong desire and need to learn English, ECC's ESOL program offers a doorway to participating more fully in community life, and an opportunity to achieving greater educational and economic success. 

African immigrants make pivotal contributions to the county's economy; however, they are disproportionately concentrated in low-wage jobs, largely due to cultural and linguistic barriers. Learning English is the first step to eliminating barriers and ensuring that this population can make an even greater contribution to the county's economy. 

A coalition member:
The ECC has been in the MCAEL network for many years. In FY19, as part of MCAEL’s Grant Program in partnership with Montgomery County Government, the ECC was awarded $22,650 to support their African Immigrant Vocational ESOL Program. The ECC, in partnership with the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) an affiliate of Enterprise Homes, offers three levels of vocational English literacy classes to African immigrant residents who live in Takoma Park’s Maple Ave corridor. The objective of the program is to equip immigrants in low wage and low skill jobs with employment-related English language skills that will allow them to successfully access educational and workforce development opportunities. 

A recent success story:
Most recently the ECC toured Montgomery College’s Takoma Park Campus and Workforce Development & Continuing Education Department. Representatives from Health Sciences, Early Childhood, and the office of Community Engagement gave a presentation on non-credit and credit programs, licensing programs, and the college’s Career Pathways Scholarship. As a result, ECC were able to assist 4 ESL students in applying for the Clinical Medical Assistance Program, of which 3 students were awarded $2000 funds through the Career Pathways Scholarship in December 2018.

The ECC today:
Thanks to the collective support of staff, volunteers, private and government agencies, the Center has expanded its services and diversified its funding base. Over the years, it has grown to become a multi-service agency serving not only Ethiopians but other immigrants. Thousands of people have benefited from the Center’s ESOL and computer programs, immigration counseling and referrals, translation and interpretation services, health, career and employment counseling and other support services. As one of the dominant immigrant tax contributors in the area, Ethiopians have established businesses, restaurants, churches, and introduced their unique culture to the American community.  

MCAEL partnerships with organizations like the ECC helps equip immigrant residents with the language skills necessary to build strong communities and workforces.

To learn more about ECC, please visit their website

Interview by Halima Ahmed


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