McAllen ISD is located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, an area where a substantial portion of auxiliary employees speak only Spanish or a small amount of English.
In an effort to promote professional development and improve safety through communication, McAllen ISD began offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to transportation employees in late March. The classes are available through the Adult Education Department at the Region One Education Service Center (ESC), a partner of the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) program.
The classes are two hours long, offered Mondays and Wednesdays in the morning and evening. The curriculum is designed by the Adult Education Department and is tailored specifically to the needs of the district.
Tailored to employee needs
LeeRoy Corkill, Adult Education Program administrator, said the curriculum is designed to help workers with their day-to-day jobs.
“For that particular class, what we do is work with the employer, at least initially, to determine what work skills they feel are necessary for their employees,” he said. “If it’s the transportation department, they may have certain skills, certain vocabulary, that type of thing that will help them on a day-to-day basis with their jobs.”
Their curriculum also helps to develop other skills in addition to speaking English, Corkill said.
“From there, we try to expand into other areas as well because we have a full-fledged ESL curriculum that works on not only oral language development but reading, writing skills, digital literacy, and so on,” he said.
There are a multitude of AEL programs throughout the state, sorted by the 28 TWC service areas. ESC Region One’s Adult Education Department serves the Lower Rio Grande Valley area, which includes Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties.
McAllen ISD isn’t the only district that has offered ESL classes to auxiliary workers. Many other districts have participated in AEL workplace programs under grant initiatives.
“We actually have had partnerships with other school districts,” Corkill said. “Sharyland ISD, for example—we did similar classes with them. It’s kind of new to our program. We introduced it last year and we’ve expanded a little bit more on it and we hope to continue to expand and keep doing more and more for these students [employees].”
Recruiting and retention
Melissa Ramirez, human resources administrator for ESC Region One, said she sees the potential for long-term HR impact from the program.
“I see this as a recruitment and retention tool, because employees would want to work at a place that values them so much that they help them learn another language,” Ramirez said.
With AEL partners available at TWC service areas all across the state, districts from just about anywhere can find a program for their employees. Texas has approximately seven million residents who speak Spanish at home, and that number is expected to continue rising for the foreseeable future. Districts can get ahead by putting ESL programs in place now to serve current Spanish-speaking employees and the ones yet to come.