Forging New Paths as the ELC Goes the Distance

A computer screen with a zoom video grid of ELC staff meeting. Soft lighting in the background from a lamp.

When COVID-19 Hit

On the afternoon of Friday, March 13th, I [Jenne, ELC Program Co-director] was taking a walk with my dog while on a conference call with Jennifer, ELC Program Co-director, and David, OSCS Interim Executive Director. We had just decided to close the ELC because of the looming threat of COVID-19. I cried all the way home.

Five furious weeks later, after hundreds of hours of outreach to our community, dozens of meetings to determine how best to transform our brick and mortar school into a distance learning program, and countless emails and texts between the members of our team, ELC students picked up the phone and logged into Google Classroom. I found myself again on the verge of tears as I realized that the ELC was a school once more.

I recently sat in on an advanced English class taught by one of our staff members, Emma. First, Emma reviewed irregular past tense verbs using a chart on a small whiteboard. Then, students shared their answers to a writing prompt about the importance of goals. At one point during the class, a student asked her grandson to help her flip her camera around so she could show us her work.

Towards the end, we could all hear the opening theme to The Office playing softly in the background at someone’s house. While we all still miss in-person classes, it struck me that learning from home reveals at least part of the context of students’ lives that often stays hidden. Not so when your living room/kitchen/bedroom becomes your classroom and your teacher and classmates are invited in!

An Undaunted Desire to Learn

We’re learning a lot about context these days. Our second round of outreach calls to students revealed that many don’t have access to wi-fi at home. Others are sharing a connection and device with their kids, who had to wrap up their semesters learning from home. We also learned that even without the crucial resources of high speed wi-fi, a reliable device, and regular childcare, the majority of our students were still eager and able to carve out time to keep learning English in whatever creative way we could offer.

“The majority of our students were still eager and able to carve out time to keep learning English in whatever creative way we could offer.”

As of today, we have 30 students enrolled in our online classes and 85 students enrolled in one-on-one phone tutoring with weekly homework packets. ELC staff members Habiba, Jennifer, and Mohamed show up to the school in masks every week to make copies, fill envelopes with homework created by Sarah S., and mail them to students. Staff teachers Sara V., Phoebe, and Emma meet with their students daily for class via video chat, and they spend at least a part of each day creating activities for students to practice in Google Classroom.

In these efforts, nearly 50 of our committed volunteers are enthusiastically supporting our ten-person ELC staff team. They reached out to Volunteer Coordinators Hannah and Hayat in those early weeks to say, “I’m still here, and I want to help.” Because of them, because of staff, and most of all, because of our incredibly persistent students, we are able to keep the essential work of the ELC going.