The Live and Learn English program celebrated its final graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon.
The event, held at Immanuel Lutheran Church, saw 23 students graduate from the program. Over the past seven years, the program has had 110 graduates, with students spanning generations from parents to children.
"The first two years we did a 10-month program," said Samantha Ellis, Live and Learn coordinator. "The last five years, though, we were doing two classes per year so we've had 12 classes in total."
Moraydeliz Zenon receives an award from Samantha Ellis during the graduation ceremony for the Live and Learn English program.
According to Ellis, the Live and Learn program was for the elementary basics. It focused primarily on individuals that didn't have any English skills whatsoever.
"They're coming in without knowing phonics and sounds," said Ellis. "I try to find people with no pre-existing English. I always come across a couple that are in between cracks where they aren't in a program, but they might not feel comfortable enough to move onto another program. I let them in because they need this more as a confidence booster to let themselves know that they're ready for the next stage."
Graduates included Jan Carlos De los Santos, the youngest student that the program had ever had, who is only 17 years old. Other awards were presented during the ceremony for individuals that showed the most improvement during the course, did the most outstanding work in the class, had excellent attendance, were able to find employment, and more.
"This is so rewarding," said Ellis. "Teaching someone a second language is like when you teach your child their first word. When a student says their first words, when they start connecting that information that is being given to them, you really see a person being born. There are a lot of philosophies that say that you don't need English, but the reality is that in this country, you need English to be able to navigate independently. Our goal is to make these people familiar with their new surroundings."
The Live and Learn program is covered over the course of 36 lessons taught in a five-month period, so students acquire a lot of information over a relatively short period of time. We want them to be comfortable in their new environment.
With the Joint Neighborhood Project closing its doors at the end of the month, the Live and Learn program will no longer operate through the organization. According to Ellis, though, she has had talks with multiple individuals about how she may be able to continue to serve the Hispanic population in Jamestown. Ellis also worked as the Hispanic service navigator for the Joint Neighborhood Project.
"I've had a lot of perspective talks with people and there's a lot of interest in what might happen to programs like Live and Learn and the navigator position," said Ellis. "I haven't committed to anything in particular, but I've had a lot of interesting conversations with some really good people that are very interested in moving into a more solid program for Hispanic services. There are a lot of brilliant people working towards some very good things."