ESL Class Transitions Students to College

by Susan Morgan, ESL Instructor

The Transition to College class provides a combination of high academic rigor of essay writing, college lecture-focused listening activities, instructional activities related to all aspects of college, an oral presentation and participation in programs jointly coordinated with Miramar College. In addition to emphasizing academic rigor, the class explores the rich cultural diversity of our students and how cultural background may affect educational goals. I was recruited by Gretchen Bitterlin to teach the first ESL Level 7 Transition to College Class and have been teaching this class for over 6 years. This class is offered at North City at Miramar College, Monday – Friday, 8:30 – 11:30, and is offered fall, spring, and summer.

Academic Rigor

There is a greater emphasis on developing academic skills in this course and modeling learning strategies that will be required at the college levels. For example, the course materials consist of academic core texts with material aligned with the College and Career Readiness Standards, e.g. non-fiction texts with critical thinking tasks, and writing assignments integrated with analyzing the reading passages. The students listen to mini college lectures, take notes, write essays, and present oral presentations similar to those required at the college level. The students also have assigned homework and receive grades according to a formula, similar to the college model, even though grades are not required in CE courses.

Students have much hope and many fears about going to an American college. Our higher education system, especially in California, is the most prized higher education systems in the world. However, it is also a very demanding system. Once you get in, you must perform in your classes and complete the assignments, participate in class, and attend regularly.

Collaboration and Coordination with the College

Years ago when I discovered that my students were not familiar with the resources on campus and at Miramar College. As a result, I began collaborating with the college English department chair and faculty, counselors, and the Outreach Program which handles financial aid. 

Each semester I collaborate with the Miramar College English department chair and faculty and arrange for my students to visit a college credit English class and my students interview the college students with their questions. The questions cover issues like the cost of books, number of hours spent doing homework, the grading policy, number of times you can be late or absent, and types of writing assignments. What is most interesting is that after this visit my students feel more confident because they see that much of the material in both the non-credit ESL class and in the credit ESOL class is very similar. 

I also invite the college counselor in to talk with my students about the steps in applying for college. Some students will need to have their transcripts evaluated, others will need to establish residency, some students will qualify for EOP, and a few will need support for their disabilities, etc. Afterward, based on their individual goals my students make a follow up appointment with either the CE counselor or college counselor and receive individual counseling about their future careers.    

Finally, I have worked closely with the Outreach Program at Miramar College to provide three-hour financial aid presentations for our upper level CE ESL students. These presentations cover the FAFSA as well as information about how to apply for scholarships, and once you receive financial aid how to learn how to budget your college money. To augment this presentation, I also have instructional material related to financial aid that helps students understand types of financial aid and the concepts and vocabulary associated with financial aid.        

The Role of Counseling

Counseling is an essential part of the Transition to College ESL course. Over the years we have had several excellent counselors. We are very fortunate today to have an outstanding CE counselor at North City at Miramar, Ms. Susan Alfafara-Killacky. She has done an outstanding job assisting my students with their educational goals and personal challenges. Ms. Alfafara-Killacky brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to her job and my students have benefitted immensely as she serves a very diverse population of students from my class. Her broad knowledge about the District’s educational paths, ability to interface with several community organizations, and her commitment to serving students are the foundation for her excellent counseling services.

Students’ Reflections and Insights  

I asked each student to specifically reflect on how our class has helped them prepare for college. When you examine the breadth and diversity of these answers it reminds me that students take from a class what they need to succeed and for each student it may not be the same.

Hilda Nayely Arreola-Armenta said, “I have been refining my writing and grammar skills by incorporating the high-incidence academic word list into my vocabulary.”

Shahrzad Ashtari wrote, “Making sentences with new or familiar words helps us in speaking, reading, and understanding passages and I am more confident in speaking and writing.”

Tingru Chen stated, “I have learned how to write an academic essay, how to be a lifelong learner, how to face life’s obstacles, and much about American culture.”

Tymofiy Demchenko said, “The work in class encourages you to learn something new and develop your skills.  We learn about the educational system in California and are given useful tips and facts about American culture.”

Dhwani Doshi wrote, “Through our group work we understand and learn more skills while we work with diverse cultures.”

Gabriela John stated, “It is a challenging class, but one of the most important factors is the teacher’s high expectations.”

Valeriia Kravchenko wrote, “The most important skills I have learned are how to prepare myself for college, how to do the grammar exercises, and learning the necessary steps that I need to take to prepare for an essay.”

Eunjung Lee said, “The essay writing lessons were well organized and the whole process was gradual and predictable.  As a teacher myself, I learned some teaching methodologies as well.”

Chung Ly stated, “Doing the group work has changed me.  I was shy and I was afraid to talk, but the group work has given me confidence to speak and write.”

Nathalia Marulanda wrote, “The teacher expectations are high and she always motivates us to do our best.”

Hadar Mizori said, “I have learned that writing essays and summarizing passages will be very helpful for furthering my education in the future.”

Anita Nasa wrote, “Before this class I was not able to write essays, but now my writing skills are getting more academic.  I am really improving my grammar, which is helping me to speak with other people.”

Sungkyung Park stated, “I have had many opportunities to write essays.  I like it when the teacher discusses American culture related to the topic in class. Through this class I have gained confidence to achieve my goal.”

Masoomeh Rouzbehi said, “ My self-reliance has increased because now I know what my goal is and what I need to do to go to college.”

Hsiao-Wei Lin wrote, “I have learned how to enhance my English writing ability in grammar and vocabulary in an academic way.  This class also has helped me set higher goals for myself and want a better position in America.”

Ana Carolina Soares stated, “I learned how to write the essay using academic words and this has been preparing me for college.  I realize how my communication skills have improved a lot.”

Mohana Sudarsan said, “As a teacher from India, I have learned different teaching methodologies and this class has helped me to learn to work with diverse cultures and nationalities.”

Olga Urvacheva wrote, “This class is a symbiosis of high expectations from our teacher, the frankness of our classmates, and the friendly atmosphere.  Everyone is interested in everyone.”

Farima Rezaeizadeh stated, “My teacher’s belief in my abilities has been most helpful in helping me approach my dreams.”

Pezhman Sharifi said, “I now appreciate my hard work and have a sense of reliance and pride.  I believe now I can compete with native speakers.”

Uyen Tran wrote, “Before coming to this class I read on the internet that in America some cultures are racist and I worried about being rejected.  But in this class it was the other way.  Everyone has treated me great.” 

Carman Vargas stated, “I learned that I can be a role model for my children.  I am learning how to write essays, learning how to use new vocabulary, and I want to learn more for my children so that they get a good education, too.

Cultural Differences and the Impact on Students

One of the most important skills that I have been working on for years in my teaching is how to incorporate a student’s culture and cultural identity into the instruction. Students come to the class very proud of their culture, heritage, and their country of origin. However, most students will tell you that they rarely have a chance outside of class to discuss their countries. Students come from diverse backgrounds and it is vitally important for me to know how they see the world and what experiences they bring to class. What I have witnessed is that the more I am able to understand their background, culture, struggles, hopes, and dreams the more they are able to be successful academically.  

One such cultural difference becomes obvious when choosing your college major. When I explain how students change their majors quite frequently during the first two years of college in America my students are surprised.  Eventually, however, they appreciate that being able to change your major frees you up to explore more options for yourself during the discovery process of the first two years of general education in college.

For a new course to be successful it needs excellent leadership, guidance and support. Gretchen Bitterlin, past Chair of Chairs and Ingrid Greenberg, Past President of the Faculty Senate and current Vice President of the Faculty Senate have been there from the start with their guidance, support, and leadership. Dean Dr. Barbara Pongsrikul, Dr. Magdalena Kwiatkowski, ESL Assistant Program Chair, and Corinne Layton, ESL Program Chair have all provided outstanding ongoing support for this class on every level. And most recently to our institution President Dr. Cortez, Vice President Cynthia Rico, and Vice President Star Rivera-Lacey have all provided exceptional leadership and direction as they have individually supported these efforts to transform students’ lives. I am very grateful and appreciative that I work with such a wonderful team of competent and committed individuals who are dedicated to social justice and each knows first-hand the value of an education.      


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