Trying to speak a different language to someone fluent in that language is daunting at best. Ffew college students feel confident enough to do it, yet international students from the Learning English for Academic Purposes (LEAP) program are doing just that. They are putting their language skills to the test by volunteering all over Ogden.
Some students currently in the program came from their home country to Weber State University with very basic English skills like, “Hello,” and “What’s your name?” By their third semester in the LEAP program, international students can speak on a conversational level and enter mainstream academic classes.
Students currently in the LEAP program come from countries across the world, like the Middle East, Europe and Asia. However, students don’t need to be international to join the LEAP program. U.S. citizens born into homes where families primarily speak a language other than English have also been known to join the program.
Every Friday, 18 students in the LEAP program go to Dee Elementary for three hours to tutor and play with students while practicing their English. LEAP students also help the teachers manage large classes and help out however they can.
“The teacher has 30 students so she can’t take care of them all, that’s too much,” Maria Gonzalez, a LEAP program participant from Mexico, said.
With LEAP student’s help, the elementary school teacher can spend more one-on-one time with students while LEAP students help out and complete tasks the teacher would otherwise take care of alone. LEAP students also go outside to play with elementary students or help them work on homework.
“We work with 2nd graders,” Gonzalez said, “They are so noisy and jumping all the time.”
Dee Elementary is not the only place to benefit from the LEAP program. LEAP students have also volunteered at Savers, the Eccles Dinosaur Park, Roy Elementary and Mount Ogden Junior High School.
According to Debi Sheridan, the LEAP department chair, after students completed their volunteer work at Savers, the manager was so impressed he offered all of the students a job at his store.
Volunteering in the community also gives the international students an opportunity to experience American culture.
“I noticed that I liked to be around the kids more than I expected,” Mustafa Alshilati, a former LEAP program participant who volunteered at Roy Elementary, said. “The funny thing was that when I went to each class, no one knew where I was from. Someone said, France, Mexico, India, Africa. ‘No,’ I said, ‘Saudi Arabia.’ Sometimes I would say I’m from everywhere because it’s not necessary to know that.”
The LEAP program is an accelerated program, with students taking only 4 semesters of English while working towards fluency. Despite the speed, the process has been effective for over 30 years since it began in 1982.
“We can take students who have zero English, who may be able to only say, ‘Hello,’ and within three semesters, they will be in academic classes,” Sheridan said.
The students in the LEAP program collectively agree that the best way to reach fluency is practice, even when it’s scary and people might laugh. Some students make friends with native English speakers while others live with American families.
“On my first day with my American family, I was even scared to shower because it was a shared bathroom,” Alshilati said, “I feel very comfortable with them now.”