Hispanic Heritage Month is upon us, and Merced College is celebrating the many ways it educates and supports Hispanic students.
As a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), the college supports that population on campus in many ways. It also reaches out to the Hispanic population beyond campus by offering free classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship (preparing students for the U.S. naturalization interview and test) at locations throughout Merced County.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the college continues working to meet a significant and growing need for both courses. The ESL and citizenship classes are noncredit, so they’re tuition-free.
“Our adult education offerings are popular among folks who are working full-time and have families,” said Caroline Dawson, Dean of Adult Education and Noncredit. “It’s so important to meet them where they’re at. Not everyone can come to Merced or Los Banos. With jobs and families, it makes a difference when they only have to travel a mile or two for their classes, or can take them online.”
Students interested in taking ESL classes have the option to enroll in morning, day and evening classes, with online live-streaming sessions or in-person sessions in locations including Wilson Middle School in Chowchilla, El Capitan Elementary in Delhi, Campus Park Elementary in Livingston, Atwater High School, the college’s Business Resource Center in downtown Merced, and the Merced College Los Banos Campus.
“We run many of them in the evening because it’s more convenient for families,” Dawson said. “We started an in-person course in Chowchilla last spring that was so popular, we’re offering three sessions this fall.”
Dawson credits Carla Lopez, an adult education director with Chowchilla Union High School District, for seeing other needs and working to provide meals and child care for the evening sessions this fall.
To meet student demand, the college is also offering a growing number of virtual classes. The online classes are synchronous, so they happen at a set time with teachers streaming live, but students can access them from anywhere.
“These classes are quite sought after, especially by parents with children at home,” Dawson said. “We want to make sure everyone’s needs are being met.”
The college does offer ESL classes to hit different levels of English fluency, but Merced College works hard to make sure students are always placed in courses that fit their needs and goals.
“In our ESL courses, we often have different levels of students work together,” Dawson said. “It creates a good learning environment where students can mentor and support each other. Beginners also gain a lot of motivation working with other students who have been where they are. Our instructors love that dynamic.”
Also, prospective students shouldn’t worry about when classes start. In Merced County, where so many people work in agriculture, starting school when semesters begin in early August or early January is not always feasible.
For the ESL classes, students are free to choose the location they want, and they can start and stop anytime.
“These courses are all open-entry,” Dawson said. “As life or family needs arise, if students need to step away and then hop back in, they can. … The power of that is, when students get motivated and say, ‘Today is the day! I’m ready!’ we’re ready for them.”