"The need is tremendous, but as they say in Spanish, 'poquito a poco' [little by little], we're making a difference," says Claudia Green, director of Workforce Development and English for New Bostonians (ENB), a partnership between the city of Boston, corporations, and community organizations aimed at increasing access to ESOL classes.
The collaboration, which draws funds from the mayor's Office of New Bostonians and different private and public grants, currently sponsors 23 sites where ESOL classes are being offered to nearly 1300 adult students each year. Furthermore, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education runs 58 sites through its Adult and Community Learning Services division. In addition to that, other public, private, and corporate foundations, businesses, and individual donors provide contributions to support 7000 more students. In total, an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 LEP immigrants are receiving ESOL services in Greater Boston, according to the Boston Foundation report.
Again, it's not enough. At any given time, the report adds, roughly 11,000 adult immigrants are on waiting lists for English classes, some as long as two years.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
In many ways, López is among the lucky ones. After being in the Boston area for only a month, a conversation in Spanish with a woman on the T led her to discover the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, an ENB partner organization.
"They were offering English classes for $60 a month but I couldn't afford them when I first visited them," says López. "But I remained involved, volunteering in the council's ASPIRA program, and they offered me a scholarship."
López enrolled in the organization's Latina ESL Program, which focuses on teaching English to women, especially young mothers and pregnant Latinas, and provides free child care.
"Some of the women in my are working two or three jobs," says López. "There was this lady in my that worked the night shift and arrived at with no sleep at 10 am. She used to tell us she only slept four hours a day."
Hardships provide challenges on both the supply and demand sides of ESOL services.
"You need to offer weekend classes because they work, you need to think about providing affordable child care on site so they can attend, then you need to take into account the different levels of literacy that you'll find among immigrants," says Richard Chacón, director of the state's Office for Refugees and Immigrants.
"I don't think it's for lack of interest or desire," says the ENB's Green. "When people come here, the priority is to find work."
No longer a babysitter, López makes ends meet by working as a part-time art teacher at EBECC, selling her handmade Peruvian art, paintings, and jewelry at area flea markets, and teaching Spanish to friends. She left five grown sons and daughters behind in Peru, and still supports them, sending them a couple hundred dollars each month.