Volunteers Create Indianapolis English Classes Map

What do you do when you need to find someplace? Maybe you’re looking for a restaurant, a library, a store, or a gas station. I’m going to guess that your answer was “search on Google Maps”. Most of us who have access to a smart phone, whether we are new to a city or long-time residents, use Google Maps or similar apps to get information and directions for a variety of locales. Immigrant Welcome Center volunteers Ginger Kosobucki and Angela Herrmann have spent the past several months developing a map that gives Indy’s immigrants, refugees, and others the ability to easily find what is often an essential need: English classes.

ESL Map Website ScreenshotThe Immigrant Welcome Center, and other organizations that serve immigrants and refugees, can tell you that there has not always been one place to look for current and accurate information on English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in our city. Now, thanks to the dedication of Ginger and Angela, there is such a tool that everyone can use. You can view the website and map here.

The Immigrant Welcome Center’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Fox, interviewed Ginger and Angela to learn more about the project.

Immigrant Welcome Center: Please tell us a little bit about you, professionally and/or personally.

GK portraitGinger Kosobucki: I received a BA in French at University of Vermont, after which I taught foreign languages in an elementary and high school in Vermont. In 1990, I got married, moved to Netherlands and then to Poland, where I taught English and gave birth to our two daughters. We moved to Indianapolis in 1997, and in 2014 I  completed my MA in English with a TESOL Concentration at IUPUI. I currently teach at ELS Language Center.  I love working with internationals of all kinds, as well as travelling, gardening, sewing, and reading.

Angela Herrmann: I am a writer and photographer. I have a BA in Spanish/Journalism from Indiana University, an MA in English with certificates in TESOL and Teaching Writing from IUPUI, and an MA in Earth Literacy from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. I’m the managing editor for the New Teacher Advocate, a publication of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education. I’ve taught English in Indiana, California, England, and China. When I’m not writing, photographing, or editing, I’m probably working in a garden, tending a small flock of hens, or hiking on a trail.

IWC: How did the Indianapolis English Classes Map project get started?

GK: In Spring of 2016, a volunteer from the IWC called me because my community English class was “on the list”, which she was trying to update. After speaking with her, I decided to help her update the list. I began volunteering with her, under the guidance of the Outreach Coordinator. Eventually both the volunteer and Outreach Coordinator moved on from the project, but I felt the desire to continue. I worked under the oversight of Terri Morris-Downs, Executive Director of the IWC, and eventually asked my friend, Angela Herrmann, to assist with the project. She has both the technical and TESOL background, whereas I lacked the technical know-how to fulfill the vision.

AH: The map project formally got started after a conversation with Ginger because we both had discovered and agreed that Indianapolis needed this resource. We pooled our skill sets and went to work.

IWC: Why did you want to create this website and map?

ESL Map ScreenshotGK: I was planning a trip, using Air B&B, and enjoying the easy drop-down informational arrows. I thought, “This is what we need for the non-English speaking immigrant community in Indy – a navigable, visual map of all the possible ESL programs available to them.” I noticed that the text-heavy lists became quickly out-of-date, and were difficult to read for English Language Learners. Whenever the question came up, the answer was always, “I think (so-and-so) has a list.” The need for one master list was evident, and the Immigrant Welcome Center seemed the most sensible place to “host” the list.

AH: When I was looking for opportunities to teach adult ESL, with the exception of some better-known programs in the city, I had no idea where I might find teaching positions–either for pay or as a volunteer. I realized that if I, as a long-time resident of Indianapolis, could not find English classes, how would newly arrived immigrants find English classes–especially low cost or free classes? Having volunteered and taught English abroad, I fully appreciate the importance of having the language skills for everyday needs, such as shopping, paying bills, going to the doctor, and more. Without those language skills, living in a new culture can feel overwhelming and even isolating. Thus the rationale behind organizing all of Indianapolis’ English classes into one online place so newcomers can find a class that’s just right for them.

IWC: How do you hope the map will be used?

GK: We hope it will be useful on multiple layers. (1) For the Immigrant community to be able to more easily find an ESL program near them. (2) For agencies / individuals who work with immigrants, to more easily direct them to an appropriate program. (3) For teachers of English – to be able to volunteer in programs, or find employment in one of the many programs. We also hope it will be used as a model for other types of services for immigrants (health centers, food pantries, etc.)

AH: I envision multiple audiences for this resource. First and foremost, the immigrant communities. All over the city, English classes are available–everyone should have the opportunity to learn English so they can make the most of their experience in Indianapolis. Second, aspiring teachers. With IUPUI’s new TESOL program, finding opportunities for internships and teaching will be much easier.  One assumption I made in creating the website and the map is that most will access it via a mobile device–thus the resource is intentionally simple and very easy to use. The bottom line is that no matter who you are, I want you to be able to find an English class that fits your needs.

IWC: You are both busy people, but you’ve given a lot of time to this project and other volunteer efforts. What fuels or inspires you?

GK: What inspires me first is my God, who is a lover of strangers, and encourages me to “love the stranger.” Secondly, I have been a stranger many times, having lived in Norway, France, Bolivia, Netherlands, and Poland, and have felt the helpless, lost, confused feeling…a lack of footing in a new culture. I wanted to create a tool that would ease some of the confusion, and facilitate language learning, as language is an empowering key that opens doors of opportunity.

AH: Paying it forward … some kind people have made my life a little easier along the way, I hope to do the same for others.

IWC: What message would you want to share with someone in Indianapolis who is beginning to learn English as a new language?

GK: The message I would like to send to any language learners new to Indianapolis is: (1) Make the effort to enroll in one of the many programs available, or take lessons, no matter how difficult or inconvenient it may seem. Putting forth the effort at the beginning will reap long-term benefits. If you don’t, you will constantly feel like an outsider looking in. (2) Use on-line resources to help with language learning. You can do this from the convenience of your home.  (3) Don’t give up! It takes a child years to master his/her native language. It will take a long time before you feel really comfortable in the English language…but don’t give up. You learned your first language (and maybe other languages too)! You can definitely learn English!

AH: Everyone knows English is a crazy language to learn, but keep at it and practice, practice, practice. And when you have learned some English, don’t be afraid to use it even if you don’t feel confident with your skills. All practice is good practice. We learn from our mistakes. And if possible, try to find a place to volunteer so you can meet and get to know some Americans and so we can get to know you.

IWC: Anything else you’d like to add?

AH: I appreciated the opportunity to work with Ginger. We both discovered an unmet need in Indianapolis and brought very different but complimentary skill sets to this project. That made it possible! Overall, I’ve found the ESL/TESOL community in Indianapolis to be quite collaborative–we all have the same goals in mind with different paths to achieving those goals. The Immigrant Welcome Center staff has been totally supportive of our efforts and for that I am most appreciative.

Thank you, Angela and Ginger! We appreciate YOU!

Questions or comments? Please email eslmap@immigrantwelcomecenter.org.

Posted in News.