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Unique Approach at Community College of Aurora to Help ESL Students Quickly Assimilate Into Health Care Programs

DENVER, CO — The Community College of Aurora (CCA), a Colorado community college , has a diverse population on two Colorado campuses. It includes students from more than 60 countries speaking 71 different languages in its ESL program alone.

So, when an overwhelming majority of these non-native students expressed an interest in entering health care fields, finding workable means to that end became a core dilemma.

Bridging the linguistic gaps and giving contextualization to the learning process would be necessary.

The solution: a new dual-teaching model integrating ESL and Health Sciences curriculum, allowing students to simultaneously complete their last sequence of required ESL courses while gaining instruction towards Health Science certificates.

The dual model is an emerging practice but not yet commonplace nationwide, instituted in community colleges and non-profits in places such as Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, Minnesota, Virginia and Illinois. But the methodology remains in the experimental phase.

In Aurora, it fits both the college demographics and surrounding marketplace well.

Certificates earned can be used to fill industry need for culturally competent workers in such medical specialties such as EKG, Phlebotomy and Certified Nursing Assistant, and as Patient Care Technicians.

ESL students at CCA already can move directly into college classes after finishing the advanced portion of ESL coursework. This new approach takes students on the cusp of 100-level courses and combines two levels and two styles of training to increase efficiency.

“This is one of the most diverse cities in the United States,” said Christopher Tombari, chair of the CCA department that provides Colorado ESL classes. “One in three households speaks a language other than English at home in the area. There's a huge vacuum for something like this.”

It also figures to set up students to acquire foundational skills necessary for academic success in other programs. Many ESL students, for example, currently enter scientific classes such as Biology and Chemistry and are unable to finish or have to repeat the courses. But, having a better understanding of terminology and contextualization will provide an advantage towards potential success.

“We take them in tiny baby steps instead of giant leaps,” said Tae Stamper, an adjunct at CCA who wrote the Health Sciences curriculum. “Students know the material many times but have trouble putting it into words. We try to give them a lot of pictures and a different way to express themselves.”

Other means will include videos, PowerPoint and Prezi presentations, simulated “rounds” where they talk about the patient in front of others. Language and cultural impediments and breaking down barriers also will be part of the material.

“The market needs culturally competent workers and this is a great labor pool, eager and bright. They really just need a chance,” Stamper added.

The four classes that will be dual-taught will touch upon introducing healthcare, including the numerous types of jobs within that employment sector, medical terminology, and a special topic on communications strategies in health care.

 “Our students don't just go up one gigantic ladder to begin with, so it’s creating programs that can facilitate students to have the ability to have different entry and exit points,” said Jennifer VanderMeer, CCA’s director of Health Sciences. “It’s a flexible program for them and I think that's a better way to also be responsive to the market because we can adapt to what the industry is saying they need and then work with those industry partners. We're getting some of that feedback already.”

Roots and Branches Foundation, an initiative of Rose Community Foundation, gave CCA $25,000 in startup funding for the program.

“We're pushing the envelope and innovating here and they were willing to step out and support innovation because they saw the value and creativity,” said Janel Highfill, director of strategic partnerships and resource development. “We think this program can be a model for other colleges.”

About CCA
Community College of Aurora has two campuses in the greater Denver area. Equipped with the latest technologies, CCA allows students to study new and traditional programs while also offering online classes and degrees. CCA’s service community spans 325,000 people in a 350-square-mile area. The college serves this diverse community by providing high quality instruction and support services to prepare students for transfer and employment.

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