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ESL program continues to grow at DMACC

DMACC adds night session to meet demand

In its second year the English as a Second Language, or ESL program, at Newton’s DMACC campus is expanding due to increased demand administrators at DMACC said.

This spring DMACC will add a second section of night classes to serve more students and will also launch a program in Knoxville to serve the population there. With students from a variety of countries and vastly different experience levels, starting the program has been challenging, but Jennie Doke-Kerns, DMACC Newton Campus Associate English Professor and Academic Achievement Center Group Leader said the results have been outstanding.

“It’s been a great success, serving 10 students representing at least seven different countries and four different languages,” Doke-Kerns said.

The classes are free, although students in Newton are required to purchase a $38 textbook, and every student receives a DMACC student ID number and has access to DMACC services. Doke-Kerns said the goal is to give students a pathway to pursue their educational goals after the ESL class is completed.

“We encourage them to see themselves as DMACC students,” Doke-Kerns said. “Many hope to go on to become college students. It’s a natural progression.”

Initially, TPI, Jasper County’s largest employer, contacted DMACC about offering the ESL classes, a large portion of their employees are refugees from other countries. As the program has grown, many of the new students have found out about the classes from former students and church organizations that work with refugees, Doke-Kerns said.

“TPI contacted us a year ago. They saw a need, with lots of employees struggling with their English skills,” Doke-Kerns said.

Doke-Kerns said TPI doesn’t promote the class as much as they used to, but classroom volunteers have been putting the word out, and the classes have expanded as more and more people have found out about the program. Last fall, DMACC only offered a single section, but when classes start this spring they’ll offer a section during the day as well as a night class. In Knoxville, DMACC will offer an ESL class in the Marion County Public Health Building, in a partnership with Marion County. DMACC’s urban campus in Des Moines is the leader, with more than 500 students completing the ELS program every year, but Doke-Kerns said the program in Newton will continue to grow as the word gets out.

“Our goal is to serve whatever the needs of the community are,” Doke-Kerns said.

One of the biggest issues that Doke-Kerns and her staff face in getting students enrolled in the classes is a lack of childcare, which is available at several other ESL campus locations. Doke-Kerns said she’s been looking for an organization in the community that would be willing to partner with DMACC to help provide childcare during the class times.

“It’s a huge barrier, it’s hard to tell them ‘no’ because there’s a chance they won’t come back,” Doke-Kerns said. “We know how hard it is to come in the first place.”

“DMACC sees these people as a place to grow, someone new that isn’t being served,” Doke-Kerns said.

There’s more to the ESL classes than just teaching students the basics of the English language. Instructors attempt to give students an introduction into American culture, providing them with an opportunity to get to know Newton at the same time. Guest speakers, like Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, visited the class last semester. Breckenridge talked to students about what they needed to do if they were stopped by a police officer. It’s an important lesson Doke-Kerns said, especially when you consider that many of the students are coming from a community where it’s acceptable to bribe a police officer during a traffic stop. Students also meet Mike Hansen, Newton’s mayor, and toured city hall and the city council chambers.

“People are to feel safe and welcome here, that’s extremely important,” Doke-Kerns said. “It’s not just about the language skills, it’s about acclimating to the community.”

Giving students a chance to feel like their part of Newton’s community helps instructors build a bridge that connects the students to Newton, Kimberly Schnell, an assistant ESL instructor said. Schnell, a member of the band Slipstream, invited students to see her perform at the Fall Fest in Newton this year, and she was thrilled when several of her students brought their families as well. ESL instructor Jenni Patty echoed Schnell’s comments, and said the experience has been rewarding for the staff as well as the students.

“It’s very uplifting, for the most part they’re all very grateful to be here,” Patty said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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