In LBUSD’s adult ESL classes, there’s a reflection of Long Beach’s diversity

The official motto of Long Beach is the “International City” so something would be amiss if it didn’t have successful English as a Second Language classes like the ones through the Long Beach Unified School District’s School for Adults.

“It’s an amazing thing to be exposed to the world without having to leave your city,” said LBUSD ESL Lead Teacher Sara Nickles. “We have students who are from all different kinds of interesting backgrounds who are here to learn because they want to be here to learn, so they’re highly motivated.”

The LBUSD ELS adult students and teachers returned to the classroom earlier this month. There are approximately 500 students from 40 different countries enrolled in classes of five different levels. There are currently 16 classes being offered and all of those students are mixed together in classes where they don’t speak anything but English.

“Your brain has the ability to pick up on a new language with people around you not speaking your native language and you don’t necessarily need translation,” said Nickles, who got her master’s in Linguistics at Cal State Long Beach. “Our approach is immersive.”

Some students who may have had little previous education are sometimes paired up with excelling students like Diana Carlos.

Carlos, 43, is from Mexico City and her husband found the LBUSD Adult School in the phone book. She started at Level 1 while taking Zoom classes last year, and has already progressed to Level 4.

“I like it a lot and I came here without knowing any English,” Carlos said. “The grammar is difficult, but my teachers are always nice correcting my pronunciation and spelling. My favorite part is the presentations and talking with everybody.”

“She is probably our most dedicated student,” Nickles said of Carlos. “She has excellent attendance, she attends morning and afternoon classes, and she was our Most Outstanding Student award winner last year.”

Nickles said she also has students from Ukraine who are fleeing war and looking to learn English in order to find a job. The Adult School also offers high school equivalency classes and is part of the Long Beach Promise so students can continue job training or education at Long Beach City College.

“These students are also coming here to live so we’re an integral part of helping them to adapt to living in the United States,” Nickles said. “A lot of students love coming back and telling us they’re officially citizens. It’s so exciting to see those students spend just a little bit of time with us and achieve so much.”

A student who starts at Level 1 can finish the program in five semesters, which is about two and a half years. This semester ends and the next semester starts in late January, but the classes always have open enrollment and waiting lists. Nickles said many of the students are also parents of LBUSD students who want to learn English in order to help their children with their homework.

“When I think of the reasons I’m proud to be able to do this job I think of helping students get to a place where they can financially support their families and help their children be more academically successful,” she added. “In a way, we’re helping the whole family by educating the parents.”

The ESL classes are free thanks in large part to funding from the California Adult Education Program and other grants. More information is available here.

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