Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Northwood Community English Language Program celebrates 25th anniversary

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Northwood Community English Language Program.

Students and volunteers play board games and socialize during a weekly Social Hour at the Northwood Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Northwood Community English Language Program)

The English Language Program, housed in the Northwood Community Center on North Campus, offers English as a Second Language classes for international adults and children four semesters per year. Classes are designed especially for the spouses and children of students, faculty and scholars who live in Northwood Community Apartments. However, the program is open to everyone in the community.

“For the past 25 years, families from all over the world have enrolled in these classes in order to improve their English skills and adjust to life in a new country,” says Julia Fituch, coordinator of the English Language Program.

To celebrate this milestone, the Northwood Community English Language Program will host a gathering from 4-6 p.m. Friday in the Northwood Community Center, 1000 McIntyre. For more information e-mail northwood@umich.edu, call 734-764-9998 or go to www.housing.umich.edu/northwood/elp.

The Language Program was started by Charlie Brainer, who lived in Northwood Community Apartments (then Family Housing) with his family. Back in 1985 Brainer saw the need for language instruction, cultural orientation and social connections for the families of international students, scholars and staff.

“It has been so rewarding to see this idea grow from a summer program to what it is today,” says Fituch, who has taught in the program since its inception. “So many people, from toddlers to undergraduates to senior citizens — from the U.S. and many different countries — have built friendships, broadened their cultural understanding and improved their language skills through this program over the past 25 years. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this very unique community program.”

The English Language Program began in May 1985 as the Summer Language Program. Classes for adults and preschool-aged children were offered for two six-week sessions that first year. The preschool classes were so popular that they were offered the following fall and winter semesters as well, Fituch says.

Beginning in 1986, both adult and preschool classes were offered year-round. In the summer of 1987 a welcome/orientation program was added for school-aged children and teens. Since the fall of 1987 the English Language Program has offered classes for adults and children of all ages four semesters per year, with morning, afternoon and evening schedules.

The English Language Program conducts field trips and social events for the families of class participants. Recent events have included a Native American powwow and a picnic at Kensington Metro Park.

The Volunteer Partners Program also has been an important part of the English Language Program since 1986. Native speakers of English volunteer as one-on-one conversation partners. They meet with adult and teen class participants outside of class, to help them practice speaking English and learn about the local community and culture. Other native speakers volunteer as classroom partners in both adult and children’s classes, helping learners to practice speaking, providing individualized help and exploring cross-cultural topics.

In 2008 the English Language Program added the Social Hour as another special activity for program participants. Once per week at lunchtime, adult class participants and volunteer partners are invited to bring their lunch, meet people and practice speaking English. Topics for these lunchtime gatherings have ranged from travel to movies to health care. Social Hour participants also have enjoyed playing party games such as Apples to Apples, Taboo, Pictionary and Outburst.

Over the years, the English Language Program has helped more than 10,000 international adults and children to learn English. Close to 100 professional teachers and student teachers’ assistants as well as more than 2,000 volunteers have made this possible since 1985.