Friday, July 30, 2010

Parenting, field trips affected

State booster seat law changes Sunday, August 1

On Sunday, Colorado's child passenger restraint laws will change and, going forward, all children between 4 and 8 years old must travel in the back seat of the vehicle and be in a booster seat.

For information on why the law changed, click here for an informative link from KUSA/Channel 9 in Denver.

For a full detailing of what the law requires of drivers, visit the Colorado Child Passenger Safety (CCPS) website at

The CCPS website also includes a list of fitting stations for drivers who want to be sure they are buckling their kids in correctly. For the first year, drivers who are pulled over by the police and who are not in compliance with the child safety law will be given a warning and education only.

Please keep these rules in mind if you plan to include your student's children in a field trip!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Highlight: Saturday women

We've recently asked volunteers in the CRESL program to tell a bit about what they do. Today's guest blogger is Elena Saenz, one of the facilitators of the Saturday morning class at Grace Apartments, and an ELA/ESL teacher in Denver Public Schools. The Saturday class started as somewhat of an experiment, and we all thought it would be temporary, but six years later, enthusiasm and participation are still strong.

The Saturday ESL for Refugee Women class was started about 5 to 6 years ago by Susan Renick, Melissa Nix and a few other people who were looking for a solution for the women who were unable to attend Emily Griffith’s ESL classes, but who also weren't thriving in the one-to-one tutoring program. The need was for specific help for the Somali Bantu women, as those were the refugees who were also the largest group at that time.

The class has since evolved to serve whichever groups of refugee women are currently living at Grace Apartments or in the surrounding community. At present, the women attending the class include the Burmese Karen and Karenni, Somali Bantu, as well as women from Burundi and Bhutan. We have learned to remain flexible since this makeup changes from year to year.

I got involved about four years ago. I was working with these women’s children as their ESL teacher at Whiteman Elementary in Denver and wanted to expand my knowledge of their culture and home life. Since then, I have become one of two lead “teachers.” Melissa Nix (Regis University) and I (Denver Public Schools) share the responsibilities along with a myriad of volunteers.

This is a free program and everyone who helps is a volunteer. Melissa and I make sure the community room at Grace is open every Saturday and that fresh fruit and vegetables are provided for the students (Melissa writes a grant that underwrites this expense, plus provides occasional materials). We don’t use a specific curriculum with the women as we never know who is going to come. We attempt to guide ourselves by the needs of the women and their individual English levels.

We meet most Saturdays. We start between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. Most of the women arrive no later than 8:45. We break up into two major groups (beginner and intermediate/advanced). Volunteers work with a group, partners, or an individual. We have materials available, plus some volunteers bring their own things to work from. We work until about 9:45 and then stop to make sure that we can pass out fruit and veggies and put the room back in order before leaving.

The women are so appreciative of the time to practice or better their English, as well as for the food. The wonderful reception and gratitude by the students are two of the reasons why I have continued to work with them for so many years. For me, there is nothing more special in this world than spending time with a group of women who give more to me than I will ever be able to give to them.

Elena Saenz
Saturday ESL volunteer

If you would like to join the Saturday volunteers at Grace, please contact

Monday, July 26, 2010

More online resources

If you're looking for more ideas on how to approach language teaching, there are hundreds of resources available on the Internet. Today's link is for English with Jennifer, A site for language learners.

Jennifer is a language teacher who has both studied and worked abroad. She has created a series of self-study lessons for students, as well as some tips for teachers. Video lessons are available via YouTube. Also take a look at the Everyday Vocabulary section of the site.

Jennifer has a companion blog just for teachers. The blog is full of great advice, teaching tips, and lesson ideas. Be sure to take a look at her lists of useful links and resources. The site is well-written and easy to access.

If you prefer to stick with video and you are looking for videos to incorporate into your lessons, Jennifer has an entire YouTube channel that you can access for free. Click here to see the wealth of videos Jennifer has created.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More is better

A couple of years ago, I shared a video that was making its way around the Internet. It was created by world traveler Matt Harding of Seattle. It remains, without question, one of my favorite things. I have it saved to the hard drive of my computer, and I still watch it on those days when I need a lift.

Somehow, I managed to miss that Harding had participated in something else I hold dear: The "This I Believe" essay series on National Public Radio.

I like Harding's essay. I think he articulates what a lot of us feel about being an explorer, a traveler, and a tribe member. He understands that we want to connect. If you didn't agree, you probably wouldn't be volunteering in a program like this one.

Click here for the link to the NPR story, but do yourself a favor: Listen to it, don't read it. It's meant to be an audio piece. You can also find a link to Matt's video on this page, as well. On the NPR page, click the picture that matches this one, above.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Employment leads

It's a fact that many people who volunteer with our programs also hope to eventually become employed in a related field. I field many inquiries about job openings, but that's hard to keep up with when so many volunteers are in the mix.

At the moment, quite a few new positions have been posted throughout the network. If you are interested in a teaching position or if you are more inclined to do case management or agency work, there's a chance there's something available now. Polish those resumes and check these Websites:

Lutheran Refugee Services (at least two positions open)

At Ecumenical Refugee Services, there is currently an opening for an employment specialist assisting refugees with job placement. Contact Sabina Durmisi at

African Community Center,
The Learning Source:

Emily Griffith Opportunity School, Language Learning Department and CRESL Program: Click here to go the DPS search page. In the second box, "Search words or phrases," type EMILY and then click the search button. This will show you all open positions at the school.

Spring Institute: Check out their jobs page:

Happy job hunting!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Film screening

National Geographic’s documentary,
“Inside North Korea”
featuring Lisa Ling

Tuesday, July 13 at 7pm

African Community Center
850 Holly St, Denver CO

National Geographic correspondent Lisa Ling journeys into mysterious and reclusive North Korea posing as part of an international medical team in this compelling documentary. Filmed against the politically charged backdrop of North Korea's nuclear ambitions, "Inside North Korea" is a fascinating search for the truth, and mutual understanding, inside one of the most isolated and repressed nations on Earth.

This event is brought to you by LiNK, (Liberty in North Korea) an organization currently working on a modern day underground-railroad, helping refugees who have escaped North Korea. By North Korean law it is illegal to leave the country; however, many North Koreans face starvation and complete religious oppression and persecution if they stay. Those who risk their lives to flee to China must live in hiding. If caught, they will be sent back to North Korea and executed or put into a concentration camp.

Learn more on the LiNK Website,

Friday, July 9, 2010

Call for Volunteers

Help organize a speaking event featuring
Valentino Achak Deng

Valentino Achak Deng is a Sudanese refugee and the subject of the bestelling book, What is the What by Dave Eggars. Since the publication of the book, he and Eggars have established the The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, a US-based nonprofit organization working to increase access to education in post-conflict Southern Sudan by building schools, libraries, teacher-training institutes, and community centers.

In May of 2009, the foundation opened The Marial Bai Secondary School in Marial Bai, Valentino’s hometown. To learn more about the foundation, you can see their website at

Valentino will be in Boulder from September 11 to September 13. Sara Beth Ford, who has worked with refugees extensively, along with several others, is putting together a group to set up a speaking event in the Boulder-Denver area. Sara's group needs the assistance of dedicated volunteers who are interested in helping with this project. This is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in raising money for the foundation and educating people about the lives of Sudanese refugees.

If you are interested in being a part of this project, Sarah would love to hear from you. Please contact her ASAP with your name and phone numbr. Include a brief note telling how you would be interested in helping out. A preliminary planning meeting is planned for Tuesday, July 13 or Wednesday, July 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Lousiville.

This is a rare opportunity to work on a short-term project that will raise awareness of refugee issues both here and abroad.

You can contact Sara by email at

In April of this year, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent Op-Ed piece about Valentino Achak Deng's work in Sudan. You can access the article by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For those who want some online practice

If you haven't found it already, I highly recommend a self-study ESL site called U.S.A. Learns.
According to the site creators:

U.S.A. Learns is an outgrowth of a project that was conceived by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL). DAEL promotes programs that help American adults get the basic skills they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens. The major areas of support are Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English Language Acquisition. These programs emphasize basic skills such as reading, writing, math, English language competency and problem-solving.
The lessons are lively, interactive, and self-paced. Please visit the "About us" page to learn a bit about how the site is structured and what it has to offer both the teacher and the student, then tour the video introduction. I recommend that tutors go through the course to get lesson and curriculum ideas, as well as to see how you can assign homework to your student. Take some time to explore and get to know the site--there is a lot available in this rich resource.

The site offers multiple levels of English lessons, videos, listening, reading, and writing modules, and tests.

Help your student register and set up an account--this allows her (or him) to save and resume lessons and keep a cumulative record of test scores.

This is an excellent free resource. Many of our in-home students have computers for their school-aged chuildren but may not understand what need they have for them themselves. Others, particularly the Iraqis, are computer literate but don't know where to go for extra English practice.

Check it out and enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourth of July fun and fretting

Just a reminder that the sounds of July 4th weekend can be frightening to a survivor of armed conflict. Please read my earlier post about this by clicking here.

Wishing you all a safe and happy
Independence Day weekend!