Eagle Endowment Recipient Launches English Program for Spanish-speaking Staff
In the basement of Kay Spiritual Life Center, over food from a local Dominican restaurant, a group of AU students chatted in Spanish with two dozen members of housekeeping staff. The lunch took place on February 15 and was the start of an English language learning program created by sophomore Noah Gocial, who received funding from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Eagle Endowment Grant.
Last semester, Gocial asked Spanish-speaking members of staff a question: If you had the opportunity to take an English class, would you take it? Every employee said yes. As Gocial explained in his speech accepting the Eagle Endowment Grant, he wondered: “Why do we go to an institution that prides itself on community service, but we don't offer free English classes to the people who serve us every single day?”
Working with the Center for Community Engagement and Service (CCES), Gocial received an Eagle Endowment grant to launch a program where Spanish-speaking staff and bilingual students could connect to practice English. Years ago, AU had a similar initiative through a collaboration between CCES and a student club dedicated to English-Spanish exchange; this new project carries on that legacy. Currently, 21 staff members and 5 student tutors are involved.
AU’s housekeeping staff work through the hospitality company Aramark, and many have worked at AU for decades—one participant at the lunch had worked at AU for 32 years. They also hail from a variety of countries, including El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Honduras.
Yadira Castro, a staff member who joined the program, explained why learning English was important to her: “It’s very important because English is the language they speak here, so it’s frustrating not to understand. It’s better to learn and move forward with that knowledge. There are more opportunities when you’re bilingual, and it’s a step towards American citizenship.”
One of the student tutors for the project, Natalia Martínez Berríos, wants to help staff members “understand more conversational English, that’s what they need.” She added that developing English skills further “boosts them professionally and culturally.” Martínez Berríos also works as a Spanish tutor for CLEAR—the Center for Language Exploration, Acquisition, and Research—and was happy to be involved in the new initiative.
“It forges connection, it forges relationships, and, most importantly, it shows the people who help us throughout this campus—who make life livable every single day—that we care about them,” Gocial said.