Funding for the Free Adult Literacy Program, offered by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at St. John’s University, has been renewed in the amount of $85,000 for the 2020-21 academic year by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). This is the fifteenth consecutive year that the program has received funding from DYCD and its twentieth year of operation.
The program supports the University’s Mission of service by offering English language instruction to socioeconomically disadvantaged adult learners in Queens and the surrounding community, helping them achieve or attain better employment. It is led at St. John’s by Alina Camacho-Gingerich, Ph.D., Director of CLACS, Chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures, and Professor of Spanish.
“A high percentage of residents in Queens speak a language other than English,” said Dr. Camacho-Gingerich. “Even a higher percentage are barely proficient in English. There is a great need in our community for a program like the one we have at St. John’s.”
Classes are currently being held virtually four days a week at three different levels of language ability. The classes prepare students for adult basic education or high school equivalency exams. To recruit students, the program partners with diplomatic missions, Catholic Charities, and other community organizations serving immigrant populations. Classes and textbooks are offered to participants at no charge. Teacher salaries are also included in the grant; all teachers have a master’s degree or higher and experience teaching adult learners.
“I was really fortunate to find this program,” wrote participant Miguelina Abreu. “I researched different programs, but they all had a waiting period of six to eight months to start the classes. St. John’s University opened its doors right away. This program not only teaches us English, but also offers workshops taught by University professors on different topics, from immigration to how to use e-mail correctly.”
These workshops, taught by University faculty, are unique to the St. John’s program. Students are also encouraged to attend CLACS’ Annual Immigration Conference, where distinguished scholars from various disciplines, diplomats from diverse parts of the world, and community leaders discuss topics related to social justice and human rights, education and healthcare issues, government policies, and immigrant stories and identities in literature and art.
“We offer opportunities for individuals to think and dream about college, which is so much easier to do in a University setting,” said Dr. Camacho-Gingerich. “Our students have the unique advantage of the resources of a University in an adult literacy program.”
The program was funded by grants from the Verizon Foundation from its inception in 2000 to 2005; since 2005, funds have been received from DYCD. Over the years, funding amounts have increased in response to its success.
“We provide a warm, family-like environment,” said Dr. Camacho-Gingerich. “Our students come back to visit and let us know about jobs they have secured with their new English skills.”