WCIE and English Now! have been working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to offer classes to refugees since Fall 2020. Based on our experience, First Steps in English has emerged as the program we’ve offered that has the most dramatic impact with the students it serves–and we’d like to offer it to more students.

Background. First Steps in English serves one of the most difficult refugee audiences to reach: mothers with young children in the home who would not otherwise have access to sustained, high-quality English language education. Students in this program are all from Afghanistan, where families are often large, and where women may or may not have achieved high levels of educational attainment. Now in the U.S., these young mothers are at a crucial point in their transition to life here. Our program helps them learn English, find community, and function outside their homes, to support them and their families’ resettlement experience.

The program. We have experimented with different academic models and have one that works well for this hard-to-reach student population. 12 students are studying in this program in three groups of four students each. All students started as complete beginners in English. This program meets twice a week for 90 minute class sessions. Class sizes are small, maximum four students, to ensure personalization of the class experience and an opportunity for each student to work on speaking. This program is taught online so that it is accessible to students who do not have easy access to transportation and who have child care constraints.

WCIE’s model for this class is innovative. Students all meet 1:1 with an Academic Advisor as well as a Dari- and Pashto-speaking Student Advisor before joining the class, so that we can understand their level of English and confirm that they will be able to succeed in the class. Then, our Dari- and Pashto-speaking Student Advisor joins each of the first class sessions for the first 30 minutes of the class as an Assistant Teacher, to confirm students’ readiness to learn online and build community.

One group of four students has been studying twice per week since January 2022. They are making great progress! They have made great strides in their conversational English and have bonded as a class. This class is a wonderful opportunity for them to meet and build a sense of community while they develop their English skills.

In June, we started a second group of four students, also at the low beginner level. These students are already showing promising improvement and dedication to their English-learning goals.

We started our third group of four students in November. We know we have a model that works and are eager to offer it to more students!

Our goal: to help these students make progress in their English as they continue through each step of their resettlement experience, in a personalized class environment, with well-trained, experienced instructors. We would like to go from three groups of four students to seven by Spring 2023–and to offer structured programming beyond their classes to encourage them and support their cultural transitions. Join us to help make this happen.

Support. We invite you to support our First Steps in English program. We know through our contacts with the IRC and others caring for refugees that the need for this type of program is dramatic. Most students with this profile have difficulty attending community-based ESOL programs because of family obligations, making the First Steps in English online program the best way they can avoid isolation in their new communities.