Students Join Local Partners to Assist Community Members as They Become Bilingual


Rutgers University Students have joined forces with local organizations to serve as conversation partners for community members who are working to enhance their English language skills.
The Students Advancing Literacy Skills in Adults (SALSA) program is co-sponsored by The Collaborative, a Center for Community-Based Learning, Service, and Public Scholarship and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education's Language Education program.  In their academic coursework, students are required to think critically about the meaning of community service, citizenship, and individual and collective responsibility in a democracy and to learn about the resources available to the community members as they become bilingual.  Their coursework includes 30 hours of service per semester.
With a goal to draw academic connections to community-identified needs, SALSA forms long-term partnerships in which students can develop their civic engagement skills and apply their classroom learning.
"Children learn English at school, but working parents don't always have contact with English speakers,” said Dr. Mary Curran, Associate Dean for Local-Global Partnerships at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. “This is a need that Rutgers students can alleviate and, at the same time, make the connection between their studies and practice."
Although they come from different academic disciplines, SALSA students share an interest in addressing real issues and say they have gained from the experience.   For some, participation in the community has become an integral part of their democratic practice.
Organizations that have partnered with SALSA include the Edison Public Library, Greater Brunswick Charter School, Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County, Highland Park Senior Center, LAZOS America Unida, New Brunswick Free Public Library, the Plainfield Public Library and Youth Empowerment Services.  SALSA expects to place twenty students at locations in Middlesex, Plainfield and Union Counties this fall.
The response from community participants, who range from stay-at-home mothers to factory workers to professionals, has been overwhelmingly positive.  Everyone involved in SALSA said they enjoyed their experiences with their conversation partners and, most importantly, gained confidence speaking English.
“They have the ability and friendliness to be able to help practice English correctly and more than anything the patience and tolerance,” said Libero, a community participant at LAZOS America Unida. “Thanks to them, I will be able to take other paths and to have fewer difficulties to advance.”