In an effort to assist members of the community who do not speak English, the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Neighborhood Resource Center, Fairfax County Public Schools and Northern Virginia Community College to apply for a training grant from The Community Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Awarded at the end of last year by the foundation's "Washington Area Partnership for Immigrants: Investing in Our Region's Workforce" fund, the chamber's workforce committee received $25,000 to put toward English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training.
Through its financial assistance, the grant will allow for ESOL-related classes to be implemented in the Herndon community — starting with teacher training courses.
EILEEN CURTIS, president and CEO of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, said two years ago the chamber learned that speaking English was the number one priority for residents from other countries.
At the request of its Workforce Committee, the chamber held a multi-cultural summit where they were able to gain feedback from residents regarding immediate issues in town.
After discussing input and holding a follow-up session, the committee created six subcommittees to address pressing concerns like housing and legal issues.
"It was a very long progression," said Curtis about the process before applying for the grant. "The number one issue that had been declared was a lack of English speaking skills."
Although numerous groups in the community offer ESOL classes to residents, Curtis said the chamber hopes to assist those teachers by offering them the opportunity to improve their teaching skills.
"The infrastructure is there in the community," she said. "But more effective teachers are needed because every class out there has long wait lines."
Through the program two courses will be offered — introductory and advanced. Those who complete the introductory course will also have the option to complete the advanced training.
Linda Morgan Malami, director of continuing education and workforce development of Northern Virginia Community College, said these training classes will allow teachers — mostly volunteers — to be unified in curriculum.
"It's an opportunity to have all the volunteers come up to a standard proficiency level to be prepared to teach ESOL," she said.
She said, while volunteers are doing a great service, because some of them are not professional teachers with masters degrees, they may not understand how to teach English effectively.
Through the training, she said they will learn how to effectively teach English while also keeping the interest of their students.
Because the grant was awarded as workforce grant, Curtis and Malami said the courses taught have to focus on work-related English.
Through the program the chamber hopes to train ESOL teachers from March to June, and then offer two ESOL classes starting in November.
Due to the increasing day labor population, not only in Herndon but throughout the region, Malami said the two November ESOL classes will teach landscape and construction work terms, respectively.
"The training will be done through [Northern Virginia Community College's] Center for Culture and Language — a program targeted to the business industry," said Malami.
Through the center, Malami said employers and employees not only learn language skills but are also offered education on different cultures to create understanding in the workforce.
ALTHOUGH THE recently awarded grant was for $25,000, Curtis said because it is a matching grant, the chamber will have to raise an additional $25,000 to equal the $50,000 total required to target work-related language training.
Curtis said the chamber has already raised $6,600 of that from its January Chairman's luncheon, but is now moving to members for assistance.
"I am now sending a letter to large builder associations in Northern Virginia asking them to send it down their pipelines," she said, adding the development and construction industries will benefit from these courses because of the landscaping and construction themes.
In addition Curtis said they will ask local area churches, chamber members and Rotary Clubs, among others.
If this first round of classes are successful not only in the training of teachers but also the fall ESOL courses, Curtis said they hope to expand courses to topics like the hospitality industry.
Excited about the work the chamber is doing to integrate Herndon's residents, Malami said she would like to see chambers in other towns follow the workforce committee's lead.
"I would like make this regional because day labor issues are throughout the region," she said. "It would be nice if this could become a template for other chambers."
Applications are currently available by calling the chamber and scholarships are also available to volunteers through the grant. Call 703-437-5556 ext. 101.