A former refugee from Russia is teaching immigrant and refugee adults English. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley said she is one of the teachers at the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division on Virginia Street.
"You have to learn how to live in this country from the very, very basic, housing, banking, going to work, going to school, transportation,” said Marina Yelinson, Teacher of English as a Second Language.
22-years ago Yelinson arrived as a Russian refugee searching for a new life in Buffalo. Like the men and women she now teachers, Yelinson knows how difficult it is to adjust to living in America.
"Just getting to know the life in this country is most difficult part of it. Language of course is a huge part of it, because you don’t speak English, but everything else, the whole culture is completely different comparing what they use to have in their other counties,” Yelinson explained.
Yelinson is a former student of the ESL program. When she arrived her goal was to get into college. In 2001 she returned in 2001 as a teacher.
"It helped me to be what I am right now. When I came here I didn't speak English so I had to learn English first,” Yelinson remarked.
Students rely on Yelinson for help and advice to adjust. Yelinson works in the classroom with Nick Pruyn. He's an ESL Instructor and Chair of the ESL Department. He teaches advanced level class.
“My class is working write now on writing mechanics, so we are learning about putting together sentences uses connecting words, like conjunctions and prepositions, and it’s something that maybe isn’t used a lot in spoken English, but for what they need to do, which is write essays, they’re trying to get into college, it’s an important skill,” Pruyn said.
“When you’re teaching English to them, what’s difficult for them when they are learning our language?” Buckley asked.
“Everything is difficult. One of the main things that’s the most intimidating is speaking and it’s you know nerve racking if you’ve ever tried to communicate in a foreign language, even if you know it fairly well, it’s still intimidating to try. A lot of them say they have trouble understanding Americans because we speak quickly,” responded Pruyn.
Pruyn said the main challenges for his adult English language learners is juggling school, work and families.
“We are very accommodating to whatever needs they have. We have counselors that work with them, advisors that help them with their outside of class issues as well,” said Doreen Regan, ESL Coordinator for the city's Adult Education Division. She tells WBFO News they are fortunate to have created many partnerships.
More than 50-English language classes are held at ten locations throughout the city, providing help from the highest to lowest level. Many of these students struggle because they have no ability to read and write.
“So that is a real struggle, trying to help them with that as well as a lot of students have learning disabilities, they’ve been dramatized, some have traumatic brain injuries. We accept everyone,” noted Regan.
Many of the immigrant and refugee speak five to six main core languages. The English classes are free. Jessica Lang also teaches at the Adult Education Division.
“I teach level II English to immigrants,” said Lang. “The culture shock is really difficult for a lot of them, but my goal is basically to be their friend and connect with them.”
Lester Leopold is Director of Adult and Continuing Education for the district.
“But learning how to speak English – speak English, first of all, so they can get around the city, grocery shopping, pay bills and the stuff we take for granted day to day,” Leopold emphasized.
Leopold said they work directly with resettlement agencies. Some students need to learn language in a certain amount of time.
Many go on to college and the Adult Education Division also works with the State Department of Labor working to find some jobs.
For the city's entire Adult Education Division, there are 28-sites in Buffalo serving about 1,500-students. Some stay for learning just a few weeks, others remain for a few years, and each year about 200-receive their high school equivalency diploma.
As Yelinson reflected on what her jobs means. She said she is 'blessed' because has the ‘best job’ in the world. She said she’s not only teaching her students, but learning from them as well.
“I was in your shoes some days ago. I’m teaching you right now, so at some point everyone will succeed,” Yelinson remarked.