I Go to School Just Like My Child! – Back to School for Adult Learners

September 1, 2015

This week all of our blog posts will be following a ‘Back to School’ theme from the perspective of each of our departments.  Check back each day for something new.  For today, it’s the Center for New Americans….

Worried looks, eager faces, glances at other students. Those are the typical images of children on the first day of school, right? Well those images are true even for adult students! Some are scared and unsure of what class will be like, while others can’t wait for class to begin and have their notebook and pen all ready to go before the teacher even enters the room.

Here at the Center for New Americans, we offer a variety of classes for adult learners. Classes like: English as a Second Language, Citizenship preparation, Cultural Orientation, and S.T.E.P (job training). I sat down with Instructor Silke Hansen to learn more about the first day of school.

Before the first day of class, each student is tested on their English skills using the standardized BEST Plus test. Their score determines their placement in class. There are 4 levels to the English classes with 1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest. Our classes are offered year-round so there is not one official start date, but new students begin class on the second and fourth Monday of every month.

Students ask questions in class 3.

Students ask questions in class 3.

That first day of class is full of new information. Often, teachers review the rules and appropriate etiquette for the classroom. New students go through introductions and tell the class something about themselves. In Hansen’s lower classes, it is something as simple as “My name is… and I come from….”   For higher level classes though, they may describe their family, job or hobby. Then class begins as normal.

English class time is 2 hours long and students learn both oral English skills and literacy skills. Daytime classes are offered 4 times a week and nighttime classes are offered twice a week.   When their instructor feels that the student has sufficiently absorbed all of the material, the student again takes the BEST Plus test and their new score determines if they “graduate” into the next level.

For many of our students this is the first opportunity in their life to really go to school. Some may have attended school when they were very little but then war broke out and the schools were closed. Others were never able to afford school, as public schools in the American sense don’t exist in some countries. To finally have the chance to attend school is amazing for them. The pride on their faces when they tell you that they “go to school just like my child” shines so brightly. And they can’t get enough! Our students continually express the desire for English classes to be offered every single day, even weekends! Students are also asking for additional resources to use outside of class, like websites or apps.

If you are interested in volunteering as a classroom assistant, please sign up or call 605-731-2000!

Poster of reasons why students came to Sioux Falls.

Poster of reasons why students came to Sioux Falls.  Education is the top reason.



Written by Kristyne Walth

Tuesdays with Frank

May 19, 2015

“It’s Tuesday. Oh, good. Frank’s coming today.” This reassuring thought occurs weekly about fifteen minutes before 10:00 every Tuesday morning. LSS Center for New Americans recently nominated Frank Boerema for the Helpline Center’s “Spirit of Volunteerism Award,” an award honoring outstanding volunteers in the Sioux Empire. Frank started volunteering in our English classes in June 2014 and has become a familiar and much-welcomed face around the place. I feel privileged to have Frank in my own classroom and appreciate his easy rapport and patient demeanor with our low level English speakers.

Kristyne (Volunteer Coordinator at LSS CNA), Frank, and me, Kadie, at the Helpline's luncheon

Kristyne (Volunteer Coordinator at LSS CNA), Frank, and me, Kadie, at the Helpline’s luncheon

I asked Frank a couple questions the other day about his experience volunteering at the Center for New Americans. His responses were just too good not to share with everyone.

Why did you choose to start volunteering at LSS Center for New Americans?
I didn’t really know anything about LSS Center for New Americans until I was invited to the Taste of Cultures event last year. There was a brochure at the table of different ways to volunteer at the Center and then to my surprise, I find out it is right across the street from where I live. I was invited to take a tour and immediately I knew I wanted to become involved.

What do you enjoy most? What have you learned through your time with our clients?
What a great joy it is to help in the classrooms and get to know the students, to be so warmly greeted by them and their big smiles every time I come. I have learned a great respect for the students, their determination to learn and their desire to live here in America. I have learned a great respect for the teachers, their efforts to bring understanding and all the time and skill they bring into the classroom.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering in our English classes?
When people ask me about volunteering at the Center, I tell them their life will change as well as their perspective of people from other cultures. The students probably teach us as much as we teach them. It is always hard to leave when my scheduled time is over. I tell them that this is a powerful experience and that they are needed by the teachers as well as the students.

Interested in learning how to get involved as a volunteer in our English classes like Frank? Email Kristyne Walth at kristyne.walth@lsssd.org or call 605-731-2009.

SDSU Nursing Students Visit English Classes

December 15, 2014

“I couldn’t imagine coming to a new place having to learn a new language.”
“I would catch myself using slang phrases then realize that those words don’t mean anything to them.”
“I couldn’t believe what they have to know [for citizenship]! I couldn’t answer any of their questions!”
“It was fun! Can I come back?”

These are just some of the comments made by South Dakota State University nursing students who recently volunteered in English and citizenship classes at the Center for New Americans as part of their coursework in working with diverse populations. Prior to interacting with the refugee and immigrant clients in the classrooms, the nursing students received information on refugee resettlement and orientation in speaking with people with limited English abilities. 


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Cynthia, a Nursing Instructor with SDSU, shared, “You can’t learn everything from a book. Here they can have conversations and really see what it is like to talk to someone with a lower English level. That’s going to help them when they work with them in their careers.”

For more information on volunteering at the Center for New Americans as an individual or as a class, contact Kristyne at kristyne.walth@lsssd.org or at 731-2009.

“Why Learn English?” What Learners are Saying

December 5, 2014

“Why do refugees and immigrants want to study English?” “What English do they want to learn?” “How can LSS Center for New Americans help them achieve their goals?

Seeking answers to questions like these was the reason Education Program Coordinator, Laura Smith-Hill, organized a Student Forum on October 13th, 2014. She said “The motivation behind the forum was the need to survey students and get their input about our adult education programming. We had previously gathered input through the LSS Client Satisfaction Surveys, but I was looking for a way to get more input in a way that was culturally appropriate and more accessible for our students.”

Approximately three hundred students gathered throughout the day and with the help of interpreters from Community Interpreter Services they were able to share their thoughts on such questions as “Why do you want to learn more English? What is difficult for you? What do you want to learn more about? What can we do to help you more?”

Laura shared that the main goal of many of the learners is “to be able to function independently in our community…to be completely self-sufficient. Our students want to be able to communicate with anyone and everyone in our community.”

Some student quotes include a desire to learn more English because “I want to speak and be understood” and “I want to talk to a doctor.” Many want to be able to talk with their children’s teachers and “help my children with school.” Another student said “If you have more English, you have a better life.”  

As the Coordinator for the Education Program at LSS and an Instructor, Laura was very pleased with the results of the forum. In addition to receiving concrete suggestions for improvement, the student forum also provided important feedback on what is going well. When asked “Do you like the classes and teachers at LSS?” learners’ responses included:

I learn a lot of English. I’m improving.

Teachers help us understand and not be afraid to talk.

Teachers speak slow and help when we don’t understand.

The teachers have good methods, respect, and commit themselves.

“These are important program pillars we need to maintain and keep building on” Laura said. When asked if she would like to do another forum in the future, Laura was very positive. “I would love to. If the learners want it, we want to provide it.”



Who? What? Where? When? Classes at the Center for New Americans

November 25, 2014

As a follow up to LSS President Betty Oldenkamp’s blog about the “most controversial and least understood” work being done at the Center for New Americans, I asked our Education Program Coordinator, Laura Smith-Hill to field some commonly asked questions by the public about classes held at LSS.

Education Program Coordinator, Laura Smith-Hill, with learners from her English classes

Education Program Coordinator, Laura Smith-Hill, with learners from her English classes

What kinds of classes are available at the Center for New Americans?

We offer four levels of English, three levels of Citizenship, STEP (Skills That Employ People) including Job-Specific English Classes, and Computer Classes.

Who can attend classes?

Any immigrant wanting to learn English can attend classes. Classes are free for everyone who has an immigrant visa and for those who don’t, they can attend by paying a small monthly fee.

When do you have classes?

We have English classes five times a day. Daytime hours are from 8-10, 10-12, 12:30-2:30, and 3-5 Monday through Thursday. Evening hours are from 6-8 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

We offer Citizenship classes in the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on Saturday mornings.

How long does it take a student to progress through your program?

Every learner is different. The speed of program completion is contingent on the level of previous education, age, and penchant for language learning. We typically cycle through content every quarter and a learner is allowed to repeat until they have mastered that levels content.

Where do learners who graduate from your program typically go afterwards?

Some learners continue their education at Southeast Technical Institute to study for their G.E.D. Some learners attend Kilian Community College’s Bridges Program to prepare for higher education. And some learners go directly to local colleges’ and universities’ education programs.

How can I get involved?

 Contact Kristyne, our volunteer coordinator, at 731-2009 to start the process to become a volunteer classroom assistant.

Over 400 students pass through the doors for classes at the Center for New Americans new home at 114 S. Main Ave

Over 400 students pass through the doors for classes at the Center for New Americans new home at 114 S. Main Ave

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