Time for a Change

April 7, 2017

Spring is in the air! This morning I saw a bird singing on the parking ramp railing, and I even dared to wear sandals and capris this week.  Everywhere I look there is green grass poking up and any trace of snow has disappeared.  It’s certainly a time for renewing and growing.

Boxes, chairs, and tables ready for the big move to East Bank


With that being said, LSS Center for New Americans has been very busy this week packing for our move to the Campus on East Bank. After waiting, talking, touring, and waiting some more, it seems surreal to be packing up everything and moving into our new building.  Teachers and students alike are excited about the move.  For months students have been asking about the new building, and are so very eager to start this new chapter in their lives. Many students are happy about the little things (or maybe they are the big things) that will come with the new building such as a parking lot and a nearby bus stop.  Teachers are excited to have permanent classrooms and a place to call “ours.”


It is of course bittersweet to be leaving the building we have occupied for the past three years. I found I was a little teary eyed on Tuesday as we held our last classes in the “old school.”  However, my students were very happy to hear that the tables, the chairs, and (most importantly) the teachers, would be moving to the new school and would be greeting them when English class starts again.

Boxes and boxes all ready to go


Stacks of packed boxes and empty rooms greet us now, but soon we will be unpacking again and setting up new classrooms. It is time for our new journey to begin.  So this week, we are dreaming of the changes about to come…new building, new classrooms, new experiences…and it feels quite appropriate that spring is here now.

Posted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

LSS Teacher Receives National Recognition

March 28, 2017

Our own teacher, Silke Hansen, formerly recognized as teacher of the year through the South Dakota Association for Lifelong Learning (SDALL), recently received national recognition as an outstanding instructor. Please see the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) press release below for full details about this prestigious award.

Silke Hansen, LSS ESL Instructor

COABE Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award Runner-Up: Silke Hansen

Lutheran Social Services—Center for New Americans

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) is 15,000 members strong and growing, and provides a variety of services including annually providing competitive national-level awards, incentive grants, and scholarship opportunities through special funding provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

Our mission is to inspire educators so adults succeed and communities thrive. COABE exists to provide leadership, communication, professional development, and advocacy for adult education and literacy practitioners in order to advance quality services for all adult learners. Fifteen thousand members strong, one way that we engage in these activities is by spotlighting excellence in the field. Silke Hansen was nominated for COABE’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award and was selected as a runner-up.

Silke Hansen is an excellent, dedicated, and seasoned veteran teacher, having taught in adult basic education for over 11 years. Her teaching duties reach well beyond the classroom. Whenever there is a function of any kind, whether it is the annual student-teacher picnic, yearly LSS fundraiser, The Closer Connections Conference, conference presentations, or welcoming new refugees to LSS, Silke is sure to volunteer and take on considerable responsibilities. Silke’s key role among the staff might be guessed by the position of her work cubicle in the teachers’ room—it is the first cubicle seen upon entering the room, an assignment that the coordinator, Laura, admits was a conscious placement. This crucial location puts Silke where she can assist teachers and students alike who are looking for some help or advice. Silke knows where everything is stored, students’ names (past and present) and what needs to be done in almost any situation practically without fail! She has built so many strong relationships with her students, not only in their classroom endeavors, but also in the greater Sioux Falls area. She has served on the board of directors of two refugee organizations in Sioux Falls: The Khor Wakow School Project headed by South Sudan refugee and past “Lost Boy” David Jal, and the Refugee and Immigrant Women’s Association, an organization that seeks to empower refugee and immigrant women in the community and provide a networking base for its members. Together, these activities and Silke’s level of commitment reflect the kind of dedication to students that her coworkers admire and her students gratefully love. They know that Silke really cares for them as people and friends, stands with them, and will support them. During all her years at LSS, it’s clear that Silke has done whatever she could, both inside and outside the classroom to help her students find meaningful successes in their adopted country. The South Dakota state organization has seen her commitment to excellence and chose her to represent their state for the COABE Teacher of the Year Award.


To learn more about COABE’s prestigious award program, go to http://www.coabe.org or contact awards@coabe.org.


Posted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

Adult English Learners from Fourteen Nations Visit the South Dakota Capital

March 22, 2017

Students and government officials pose for picture inside the capital building


53 adult English language learners from the LSS Center for New Americans had the privilege of visiting South Dakota’s capitol this month. This is such an exciting opportunity for our students that we received 100 applications for these 53 seats.

These 53 learners are from 14 different countries: Burma, Guatemala, China, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Bhutan/Nepal, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Mexico and El Salvador.

About 60% of these LSS adult learners came to the US with refugee status. About 40% came as immigrants.

The goals of these learners are:

  • To become self sufficient communicators in English
  • To get jobs and advance to higher education and training
  • To become United States Citizens


This civics education field trip was sponsored by the Department of Labor and Regulation. The Department partners with the LSS Center for New Americans to provide adult education and literacy services in the Sioux Falls community.

The learners visited with legislators, toured the capital building, observed proceedings in the house and senate chambers and visited the Cultural Heritage Center.

On the Steps of the South Dakota Capital Building


Touring the Cultural Heritage Center

Having fled the impacts of persecution and injustice, the adult learners deeply treasure the freedoms and democracy of this great nation and the great state of South Dakota. It is, in fact, a dream come true for them to visit our state capitol. They are grateful to be residents of South Dakota, to have the opportunity to raise their families, work and contribute to a safe and welcoming new home.

written by Laura Smith-Hill, Education Program Coordinator

Everybody Has a Story

December 5, 2016


konnichiwa ~ al salaam a’alaykum ~ mydokumbay ~ tibuy ~  preevyit ~  jambo ~ni hao ~ hola ~ dananish ~ salamnish ~ bonjeur ~ chào bạn ~ mbote ~ yambu ~ habari ~ is ka warren ~ sampurasun ~ min-ga-la-ba ~  sannu

Every day I hear “Hello” in a dozen or more different languages because I have the privilege and honor to work with many students from many different countries. One of the questions I get asked the most is, “Where do your students come from?”  This is a very difficult question to answer because my students don’t just come from a “place,” but they come from a story, they come from a dream, and they are still working towards that dream.

To help answer this question, some of my lit 3 students wrote about their “stories.”


Our Stories

I’m from Bhutan. My job in my country was a farmer.  I feel my country is small but beautiful.  The government is not good, but the country is a beautiful place!  My country has fighting.

I came to America for safety and freedom. I came to America by plane.  I left the refugee camp three years [ago].  I went to first Idaho.  I bought a ticket and went to Sioux Falls.

I will go to learn English before I get a job. My dream is to get citizenship.  I felt nervous [when I first came to America].  I feel good now.  I like best [that] my life is safe.


I’m from Ethiopia. I like Ethiopia, but there are problems.  I lived in my country for 19 years.  I had family in America.  I came to America on Oct. 2, 2013.  I came on a plane.  I came with one family member.

I left my country two years ago. I came first to Washington, D.C. and I flew to Sioux Falls.  I came to Sioux Falls by plane.

In America I will get a job. My dream is I will be happy.  At first I felt not good in America.  Now I feel good.  I like people because they are nice.  I like my job.


I am from Guatemala. A friend drove me to America.  I don’t like to live in Guatemala because too much fighting.

[Now in America] I want to help my family. I want to build my house.  I was so sad [when I first came to America].  I am happy [now] because I live with my brothers.  I like work.  I like Inglish class. Inglish is important in America.


As we prepare for this holiday season, let us remember our own roots. We are the great-grandsons and grand-daughters of hopes and dreams.  We are the products of determination and hard work.  Today’s refugees and immigrants are full of the same hopes and dreams, the same determination to live a better, safer life.


Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

The Great Pumpkin

October 25, 2016


This week I have noticed the leaves changing on the trees from lovely green to bright yellow and red. The frost covers the grass in the mornings, and the sun hides until about 7 o’clock.  It is most definitely autumn!

With autumn come Halloween and Thanksgiving, two decidedly different holidays, but which hold a common thread…PUMPKIN! Everywhere I look I see pumpkins…pumpkins on front porches, pumpkins at road side stands, pumpkins in the grocery store, pumpkins on my kitchen table…autumn is definitely the time to enjoy carving pumpkins…and cooking pumpkins! I don’t know of anything better than fresh homemade pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving…

However, pumpkin doesn’t just excite Americans; pumpkin is a staple in many, many countries. My African students eat pumpkin, my Asian students eat pumpkin, my European students eat pumpkin, my Central American students eat pumpkin…basically ALL my students eat pumpkin regardless of where they are from.  And it’s not just served in pumpkin pie!

My Nepali students in particular happily inform me that they eat pharsi with rice when we discuss pumpkins in class.   Recently my Oral 1 (beginning literacy) students from Nepal and Burma shared their favorite way to cook pumpkin, and I thought it would be nice to share a new pumpkin recipe with you.

Nepali/Burmese Pumpkin Recipe


2-3 chili peppers (maybe 5!)

Small pumpkin (peel, cut, and cook)

3 potatoes

1/2 onion

1 c of water

2-3 medium tomatoes

Add garlic, ginger, cumin, and turmeric.


Cook all together. Put on rice.  Eat.  Enjoy!

Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

5 Reasons You Should Become a Classroom Assistant

October 14, 2016

Today, we share 5 reasons why you should become a classroom volunteer and help the new students!

Reason 1 – Travel the world! (while staying in Sioux Falls) – In our classrooms, we have students from across the globe learning together. One moment you may be sitting next to a former doctor from Russia, the next reading with a farmer from Ethiopia. You’ll be able to see and learn about the culture of other countries without paying the cost of travelling or feeling the effects of jet lag – could it be easier?

Level 4 Students learning about US Universities

Level 4 Students learning about US Universities

Reason 2 – Make new friends – The students see our volunteers as both teachers and friends. While you’re here be prepared to hear choruses of “Teacher, Teacher! Guess what?” and “Teacher, my sister is coming to Sioux Falls; I bring her to meet you!” and even “Teacher, I made this cake for you.”

Reason 3 – Help fulfill dreams – Many of our students were unable to attend school in their homeland as a child due to war and violence. Now that they are here, they have the chance to. You can help by practicing flashcards and having conversations with them!

Reason 4 – Learn something new! – Not only can you learn about other cultures but you might learn more about America too. As one volunteer said, “I couldn’t believe what they have to know [for citizenship]! I couldn’t answer any of their questions!” Volunteering in a citizenship class is great way to brush up on your civics knowledge. Stun your friends with all the information you have!

Teaching gets physical when learning action words like "unconscious"

Teaching gets physical when learning action words like “unconscious”

Reason 5 – It’s fun and easy – You don’t have to be an expert to volunteer. We’re just looking for encouraging and welcoming individuals to help our students learn English. We laugh and joke while we teach in our classrooms. Just try not to smile while you’re here!

So if you’re looking to have fun, give back, and learn more about the world, become a classroom assistant! Sign up today to begin volunteering or call 605-731-2009 for more information!


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, Center for New Americans

Proud to Be A Citizen

October 28, 2015

Last week you met Janice Godtland, an immigration attorney at the Center for New Americans. Today I will share the story of one of the many individuals she has helped to become a U.S. Citizen. Matuda Agaba is a 63 year-old former refugee from the African nation of Eritrea.  She came to the United States 8 years ago after spending nearly a decade in a refugee camp. Originally, she was resettled in Las Vegas, Nevada but decided to come to Sioux Falls 6 years ago to be closer to her daughter.

Matuda began the process to citizenship nearly a year and a half ago. She first met with Janice to complete the initial 21 page application, take pictures, and pay the fees required to apply. Then she eagerly waited for the letter to come in the mail telling her the dates of her appointments with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. At her first appointment she was fingerprinted and completed a full background check. After passing the background check, her second appointment was made and consisted of an in-depth personal interview with an Immigration Officer. Like many refugees, Matuda attended Citizenship preparation classes at the LSS Center for New Americans in order to prepare for the interview. During this interview, the officer asked Matuda to detail her life here in America, her life in Eritrea, and her experiences in the refugee camp. The officer also tested Matuda’s knowledge of the U.S. and history.

Matuda Agaba during the Oath Ceremony.

Matuda Agaba during the Oath Ceremony

The final step for Matuda was the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Matuda, along with 40 others, officially became a United States citizen on Friday, September 11th at 2:30 pm. During the ceremony, many speakers stood up and spoke about the significance of being a U.S. Citizen. To the delight of most of those present, President Obama even appeared on the room’s television with a prerecorded message to celebrate their citizenship. Each person also got to the opportunity to pose with the judge and record their first moments of being a U.S. citizen. Matuda said this was one of her favorite moments of the day.

Finally, after all of the pictures with friends and family, Matuda did something she has wanted to do for most of her life—she registered to vote. Matuda has never had the opportunity to vote. When Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front seized control and established a one-party state and banned any further political activity. There have been no elections since. Though excited to vote at the next election, Matuda is nervous because, “I’ve never voted before and it’s hard to know what each candidate stands for.”

Please help us welcome Matuda Agaba as a brand new U.S. Citizen!

Matuda Agaba

Matuda Agaba as a brand new citizen


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator

Too Good To Be True

September 22, 2015

This week all of our blog posts will be following an “Internet Safety” 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….

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That is one of the first things we teach new refugees in cultural orientation class.  Scams can fool anyone but for those new to the United States who are focusing on the basics (language, food, shelter, and work), recognizing and avoiding fraud may never even cross their minds.

Solomon Haile, a caseworker at the Center for New Americans, recounts how easy it is to fall for advertising tricks or identity theft when you’re new. Haile arrived in 2006 and was one of the first of his ethnic group to the area. On TV one afternoon, he saw a commercial for J.G. Wentworth and their classic slogan, It’s my money; I need it now! Haile, in disbelief, said to himself, “I have money out there? America is wonderful!” So Haile called the company asking for his money but soon learned his mistake. Fortunately Haile’s story ends well and he laughs now about it, but for others it doesn’t always end so well.

Solomon Haile says he made mistakes when he first came because of his lack of knowledge about advertising in America

Solomon Haile says he made mistakes when he first came because of his lack of knowledge about advertising in America

Refugees and immigrants are often targeted because of their lower English skills and their unfamiliarity with the culture. Often these scammers pose as someone from the government, like the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and ask for money or personal information.

Right now a common scam is aimed at those refugees who are paying off their travel loan. Refugees traveling to the United States are issued loans by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to pay for the costs of their transportation from overseas to U.S. resettlement sites and for various medical and screening costs. The funds to cover the transportation were provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Refugee Programs. Scammers pose as employees of IOM or the United States government and say that they will forgive the loan as long as you pay $500 right now. Unsuspecting refugees pay the money only to find out that they were victims of a scam.

We do our best to educate newly arrived refugees about these types of scams and warn them to never give out personal information over the phone. However, new scams pop up continually and unfortunately we only learn of them after they have claimed victims. We tell students that the best way to “test” to see if a call is a scam is to ask to meet the person face to face. When the caller hangs up or can’t provide a proper address, it’s a good bet that they are not who they claim to be. The Federal Trade Commission recently put out new materials to help refugees and immigrants spot, avoid, and report scams. Below are warning signs of a scam. You can also visit usa.gov/common-scams-frauds to learn more about the different types of scams and fraud out there.

Some rights reserved by Fosforix

Some rights reserved by Fosforix

Here are some warning signs of a scam

Did someone promise you a job –if you pay them?

  • Never pay anyone who promises you a job, a certificate that will get you a job, or secret access to jobs. Those are scams.

Did the IRS call saying you owe money?

  • The IRS never calls to ask for money.

Did someone else from the government call, threatening you and demanding money?

  • The government doesn’t call to threaten you or ask for money.

Looking for legal help with immigration?

  • Use a lawyer or an accredited representative, never a notario.

Did you get a call or email saying you won something? Except there’s a fee?

  • Never pay for a prize. That’s a scam. You’ll lose your money.

Did a caller offer to help you get back some money you lost?

  • No government agency or legitimate business will call and demand money to help you get money back

Did you get a check from someone who asked you to give them part of the money back?

  • Never give someone money in return for a check. Fake checks can look real and fool the bank. You’ll have to pay back all the money.

Did you get an email, text, or call asking for your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number?

  • Never give that information to anyone who asks over email, text or phone.


Finally like we teach our students, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, Center for New Americans

Teachers and Desks and Books, Oh My!

September 11, 2015

As we piled in the van, I could tell they were excited. Their eager eyes and smiles were a big give-away. We were on our way to go to school! Well, technically, we were on our way to be enrolled in school. For both parents and kids this is an exciting day. Kids are happy to meet other children and parents are incredibly grateful that their children will get an education; something that was denied to them when they were children because of violence, discrimination, and war.

One of the responsibilities of the caseworkers at the Center for New Americans is to help newly-arrived families connect with the school district to enroll their children in school. This morning we were taking 2 families to the Elementary Immersion Center at Jane Addams Elementary. Once we arrived and the kids found out that today was going to be mostly paper work, their excitement waned a bit but the parents remained happy.

Enrollment begins in a small room with a teacher and interpreter. Basic information is gathered, like names, birthdates and birth places, native languages and prior schooling. Many times this information comes along with stories like, “I do not know her birthdate. She was born after we fled the village in Congo, as we walked to Kenya. It was spring time in 2003…” and “He went to Grade 2 but only 4 months. There was not many food and he must look for food with his brothers.”

Then the teacher discusses placement. Parents are surprised to learn that grade level here is based on the child’s age and not their school experience. One mother was very concerned that her son would attend high school. “Secondary School? He’s not ready. He will be behind. What if he meets the bad crowd?” It took a few assurances before she believed that her son would be with great teachers who will help him succeed.

After a few more questions, it was time to look around the school. For the younger kids, they were able to even visit their classroom. We walked down the colorful hall way and into a 2nd grade classroom. Their teacher greeted them warmly and asked their names. They were shy but I could see they were happy with their hidden smiles. The teacher also introduced another child from her class that spoke the same language. She asked him to help the new kids when they start school next week. They were very happy to meet someone they could speak with. Finally as we turned to leave, their mother, who up to this point was just taking everything in, turned to the teachers, shook their hands and said in her best English, “Thank you!” It was a proud moment for her being able to see this dream come true for her children.



Post by Kristyne Walth

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

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