In Grant County, 34 percent of community members over the age of 5 do not speak English in the home, Big Bend Community College’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program found. Eighteen percent of the county’s population is foreign born.
“I found they were being left behind here because they didn’t speak English or share our kind of culture,” said Tyler Wallace, the college’s director of adult education, of the county’s large Latino population.
The college program tries to connect with each of the county’s many small communities as a means of making English classes and high school diploma and GED preparation accessible. Wallace asks students, “Now that you have learned English, have you considered what is possible?” After taking the courses, said Wallace, “You really hear their narratives change. Once bilingual and with an education, there is no limit to what they can do in today’s economy.” Wallace also wants people to understand how valuable these graduates are to communities and economies.
At $25 per quarter of instruction, the courses are affordable to most.
The classes are also offered in four different communities within Grant County and during different times of the day year-round. In addition to ESL, students receive training in technology and employability. During the 2015-16 academic year, with 856 enrollments in the school’s ESL classes, students earned credits toward high school diplomas and transferred credits to take BBCC college-level classes.
“It is often perceived that because students don’t speak English well, they are not very educated or hardworking. Some were engineers and doctors in their home-counties, they have master’s degrees and some were teachers. There is no limit to what they can accomplish,” Wallace said.
In mid-June, graduations are very exciting. Each graduate has the opportunity to take the mic, speak of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them, as well as offering thanks to those who were a part of this transition. Said Wallace, “You will not find a dry eye in the room.”
And Wallace wants people to know it is never too late in life to enroll. During his career, he has seen people in their sixties and high school dropouts take the program and receive diplomas. For more information and class schedules, please visit bigbend.edu or facebook.com/bigbendesl.