Madeline St. John
On Saturday, September 13th, the Futuro Latino Learning Center (FLLC) opened for its first classes of the year.
It was a rain-soaked morning and from outside, the academic quad appeared silent and empty. In Van Meter, however, the classrooms were well-lit and inviting. A buzz of English and Spanish filled the air. It was break time, so students and teachers chatted next to a table spread with appetizers. “Bienvenidos,” said their smiles. Welcome.
The Center opened in 2009 with three levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. It has since expanded to five, due to the popularity of the program. Computer classes, taught in Spanish, are also a large part of the curriculum.
The Center runs from 10am to 5pm every Saturday, from September until December. All of the classes are free. Taught by Latino Goucher students or Spanish majors, they are aimed at Baltimore’s Latino community. However, according to Melina Quiroz ‘16, student teacher and last year’s Center coordinator, Asians, Africans, and immigrants from the Middle East have also participated.
The program is meant to be “very one-on-one” and “interactive,” said Frances Ramos-Fontan, director and driving force behind the Center. Goucher students help participants fill out job applications and write resumes. Mothers learn how to check their emails so they can read notices from their children’s’ schools. “The best thing,” said Quiroz, “is that we provide childcare [during classes], so the parents don’t have to worry about their kids.”
The Center also now includes a program to help kids feel proud of their Hispanic heritage. The children play games, sing songs, and read books in Spanish. When children come to the United States, said Ramos-Fontan, they “try to forget their background…We want them to see how rich it is to be part of more than one culture…It is important to be yourself and be proud of who you are.”
While most of the student teachers are paid through work-study grants, all Goucher students are welcome to volunteer. “If someone wants to participate,” said Quiroz, “they should just come…You don’t have to speak Spanish to help out.”
Director Ramos-Fontan sees college campuses as an underutilized resource. “The dream is for other institutions to get to know what we are doing and to open up their campuses….Students welcome it.”
“It’s a good opportunity to see what the world is like outside of Goucher,” says former ESL instructor Fernando Chong. “You are teaching something you take for granted. You see that they are really thankful. You see the smiles on their faces. And after a while,you also learn their personal stories, like how they got to the U.S.”
“It opens your eyes to how important it is to speak English in this country,” says Quiroz, an immigrant herself. “To just go on the phone and change a setting is difficult, because they don’t understand the language.”
For Quiroz, the Center is also a place to relax. “After a whole week of classes,” she says, “the Center is my go-to place.” Former ESL instructor Elizabeth Forest ’16 puts it simply. “It is very fulfilling,” she says. “It makes me happy.”