In August 2017, I started a position as an ESL resource faculty member at a community college in California. I was hired to completely restructure their outdated ESL curriculum and work on reviving the department that had been left without a faculty lead for a number of years.
The ESL classes at my new school have struggled with low-enrollment leading to regular class cancellations, a vicious cycle because canceling a class leads to low enrollment in the next level the following semester.
As I started digging into this problem, lack of interest in our program didn’t seem to be a significant factor. I talked with a lot of people who were very interested in taking ESL classes at our school; the problem seemed to be that people just weren’t aware of what we had to offer or that taking classes with us was even an option for them.
It was clear that we needed to do some serious outreach. So, our director of matriculation, dean of student services, and I started planning to hold an open house and orientation day right before the start of the spring semester to offer information about our program and to help students through the often challenging matriculation process. Our college uses CCC apply, which is an online application for colleges in the California Community College system. The application process is often challenging for language learners at the beginning levels and also for students with limited technology access or skills. We planned our event to provide the support needed to help students through the online application and registration process.
The morning of, I was worried that we may only have one or two people show up. However, we had 40 people show up to our event. It was very successful, and of course, we learned a lot for next time. We’re currently planning our second open house and orientation day for August before the start of the fall semester. I’ll outline our plans for our fall event in this rest of this post.
The purpose of our event is to create a welcoming space for people in our community to learn about the program and get those who are interested signed up and registered for a class. We are also taking the opportunity to partner and collaborate with various community organizations to provide information to participants about programs and services that are also available to them. Our event includes a presentation about the HEP (High School Equivalency) Program that our school partners with as well as a dedicated tabling time for participants to learn about various community organizations. We want to make the event as welcoming and useful as possible for those who come, regardless if they choose to sign up for a class or not.
Collaboration with Adult Ed
I was hired through AEBG (adult ed block grant) funding, and part of my job is to collaborate with our local adult schools and work to eliminate repetition between the ESL classes at our schools. I’ve been meeting regularly with a representative from our local adult school to discuss how our programs will align. Historically, we have both offered very similar levels, some in the same time block. Our future direction will be that they will continue to offer the four beginning levels during the week, and we will move to only offer those levels on Saturdays.
As part of this collaboration, we’ve also invited the adult school to join our event to provide information to students who may be better served by their program or who need a lower level class during the week.
The first time we did this event, we tried to move groups of people in time blocks, but it turned out to be a bit of a logistical nightmare because people complete things at different rates. This time, people will flow through the registration steps at their own pace and then come together at the end. We anticipate this being a much smoother way to organize the event. Below, each part of our event is described.
- Check-in, Coffee, and Refreshments: As people come in, we’ll provide them with a folder containing the day’s agenda, a campus map, and other informational handouts. We’ll encourage them to get some coffee and refreshments as they get settled in. View some of the documents below.
- Welcome: At the beginning of the event, everyone will be together, so we’ll use this time to welcome people and share some information about what to expect during the day. I’ll give a short presentation about our program and the classes we offer. The HEP program will do a brief 2-3 minute plug presentation for their optional presentation later in the day. The adult school will also give a short presentation about their program, so students who may be better served by what they offer can be directed to talk with them before starting the application process to our college.
- Icebreaker: We then do an icebreaker together to help everyone relax and mingle. We use a “find someone who” bingo activity which is great for people at all levels of proficiency. For the event, we have it bilingual since many of the participants have very limited language skills and the purpose is to get everyone to participate. >>Click here to download the icebreaker<<
- Application: At this point, the group will split up. Those who know they want to start the application process for our school will go to a computer lab to be walked through CCC apply. There will be staff in the lab to help people with registration. For those who are still not certain where they should go or who aren’t yet sure if they want to take a class, there will be ESL faculty from both the adult school and our program as well as HEP representatives to talk with them and help them determine the best place to go.
- Tabling: After students have completed the CCC apply session, they have to wait for about an hour while the application downloads and provides them with a student ID number. During this time, we direct them back to the main room where there will be various tables from community partners. Participants will visit the tables and get initials on a tabling passport. This paper, which will also include a survey of the event on the back of it, will be used as the meal ticket for lunch. To reach out to community organizations, I sent an email including the event flyer along with a link to a simple google form that asked the following questions:
- Contact Information
- Agency Name
- Phone Number
- Contact Person
- What information will you provide?
- How many tables do you need? 1 or 2
- How many chairs do you need?
- Assessment: After visiting the tables and waiting for their student IDs to process, students will return to the computer lab to retrieve their ID numbers. Then they will complete our placement process while in the computer lab. We’re piloting a guided self-placement procedure this fall that students will access online. More to come on this in a later post.
- Registration: As students finish the placement process, they will head over to Admissions and Records to register for classes. They’ll then return to the main room for lunch.
- Lunch and Student Testimonial: During lunch, we also include a student success story. The person isn’t necessarily someone who has gone through our program but is someone who has gone through the process of learning English. This part of the event proved very inspirational, and I heard from a number of people who said things like “if she can do it, so can I.”
- Optional Presentation about the HEP Program: our campus is fortunate to be partnering with the high school equivalency program through Sac State, which is a program that offers classes at no cost to agriculture workers, so they can graduate high school. Our event will end with a presentation by HEP. It’s optional as not everyone will qualify for their program, but we invite anyone who is interested to stay for the presentation.
One key component to making this event successful is doing effective outreach. We did outreach in a number of different ways.
Flyer: We created a flyer for the event. We translated it and had English on one side and Spanish on the other side. I’m working on getting it translated into more languages for our fall event. I had our print shop print both in full page and also quarter page cardstock. The smaller ones are great for leaving a stack somewhere. It’s important that you have a point person who people can contact for questions. Make sure this information is on the flyer. I received a lot of inquiries about the event, and I think being able to talk to someone and ask questions helps to connect people and make them feel more comfortable with attending. I put the flyers all over our campus. I also left them throughout our town in laundromats and anywhere I could find a bulletin board or where they would let me tape them or leave a stack. >>Check out this ESL Orientation Flyer Example<<
Community partners: Reach out to local organizations who serve potential students. Take them the flyers and let them know about the event. They will be great advocates to help spread the information to the community.
Local churches: Reaching out to local churches is also a great idea. A few of them put an announcement in their church bulletin and others announced the event at the service.
Facebook groups: I think this strategy is very successful and is key to getting the information to a large number of people. I posted information and our flyer to various relevant facebook groups. For example, there is a group called “Good Neighbors of __(town name)___. Search to see if you have one in your local area. You will need to request to be a part of all of these groups, and many will need to approve posts before they appear on the group’s page, so it’s important to do this ahead of time. Look for groups that will be relevant. For example, we have a high percentage of Spanish speakers in our community. I found a group called “Compras y ventas en español y inglé” (buy and sell in Spanish and English). I posted information there and had over ten people commenting and asking questions about the event and classes at our school. Some people even shared the post. Each of these groups has over 10,000 members and can help spread the word to a large number of people.
Cost to School
There were some costs associated with this event, but in comparison to the benefits such as not canceling classes and increased enrollments, it’s worth paying for. Below are the things we paid for:
- Lunch and snacks: The price for this will vary depending on what food you go with and the number of people you anticipate. We went with pizza from Costco and some muffins and croissants for snacks. I don’t know the exact number for this since I wasn’t in charge of purchasing, but it wasn’t too crazy expensive.
- Flyers: I printed flyers for the event through our printshop.
- Part-time faculty participation: Were a small school with only one full-time faculty in ESL, so I wanted the other ESL faculty to participate and help out. I’m so glad they did too because having them there helped the students connect with them and ask questions about the classes, and they really helped out a lot in other various tasks. I got payment for them through AEBG funding to pay them for their time at the event. Check with BSI or Student Equity on your campus to see if you can get funding approved.
One key component to a thriving program is strategic and effective outreach. Hosting an ESL open house and orientation at the start of each semester is a great way to grow enrollment numbers, support new ESL students, and help decrease the number of students who show up to class before they’ve actually registered. If you have any further questions about this event, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to share more information about it. You can use the “Contact Us” in the top menu to send me a message.