English as a Second Language classes now offered free of charge at River Parishes Community College

River Parishes Community College (RPCC) recently began offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at its St. Charles campus at no cost to local adult residents wishing to learn the English language.

RPCC plans to offer ESL classes four times per year, each course a 12-week program, with four different levels of proficiency offered within the ESL program.

“What we teach is everyday English; it’s not like taking a credit English class,” RPCC Director of Adult Education Sarina Lirette explained of their course offerings. “You’re not writing essays – this is everyday English to help [students] get more acclimated to the community they’re in, outside of their personal network.”

Completion of the ESL course can lead to an improved quality of life, Lirette said, and potentially more employment opportunities and higher earning potential.

Having ready access and local knowledge of where to take ESL classes came to the forefront last month in both local and national media, after a local 28-year-old Spanish-speaking woman was arrested for allegedly posing as a Hahnville High School student for most of the 2022-2023 school year. The Boutte woman, Martha Jessenia Gutierrez-Serrano, was said to have told officials she pretended to be a high school student in order to learn English.

“There is definitely a need that has been driven by the community reaching out to us,” said Lirette.

RPCC began offering classes at its St. Charles campus earlier this spring, but its main campus has offered ESL classes to the local area as early as 2019, with a brief hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its latest block of St. Charles area courses began on July 11, running until the last week of September. Two more ESL session blocks are scheduled for the fall and two more blocks are scheduled already for Spring 2024. Each session accommodates class sizes up to 20 students.

“All of these programs are of no charge to the students,” Lirette said. “It’s no cost because we are completely grant funded.”

Lirette mentioned most participants in ESL classes were Spanish speaking, wishing to learn English.

“I can strongly say that 99 percent are Spanish speaking first,” Lirette said.

RPCC currently has three instructors who each speak Spanish fluently, which Lirette said helps with any initial communication barrier. For its latest ESL block of sessions, classes are being held initially at the St. Charles campus located at 13415 Highway 90 in Boutte for one month, and then will hold classes at the St. Rose Public Library for the remainder of the session block.

“There’s a large population [of ESL class participants there in St. Rose] that do not have transportation,” Lirette said. “So, we’re actually going to move the program within their community, so it will be easier for them to access.”

Multiple levels are offered to ESL students “with the hopes that at the end of that 12 weeks, they’ve accomplished enough knowledge that when they test at the end, they can actually move up to the next level,” Lirette said.

Getting the word out to local members of the Spanish-speaking community was initially a challenge, Lirette said from her perspective as a non-Spanish speaking director.

“The circles we move in, whether it’s within the community or even on social media, they’re not the same,” she explained.

Through networking with other non-profit organizations that had direct connections to the Spanish-speaking community in St. Charles Parish, Lirette and RPCC was able get the word out to the community, efforts she said had a big impact on filling up ESL classrooms.

Lirette said after offering ESL classes in St. Charles beginning in the spring this year, instructors are already beginning to see the impact on the lives of its adult ESL students.

“My teachers come to me all the time with their success stories of folks who have either improved their employment in some capacity,” Lirette said. “We’ve actually had some that have completed our ESL program and then moved into our high school equivalency program.”


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