By Jessica Carruba
The Levittown Public Library has always been a resource for language learning. As the library strives to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse community, non-English speakers have the opportunity to participate in free English Language Learner’s groups thanks to a partnership between the nonprofit Literacy Nassau and the Levittown Public Library.
Karen Micciche, executive director of Literacy Nassau, explained how the ELL groups facilitated by the organization and the libraries they work with transcend language learning to provide a full spectrum of services, which helps acclimate community members to their new country.
“ELL groups teach participants more than just the mechanics of the English language,” Micciche said. “Participants are introduced to American culture and traditions, given the social opportunity to make friends with neighbors they might otherwise not have met and most importantly, offered a safe space to practice their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.”
Though the program was first introduced as one weekly, basic level group, it has since grown to three groups that meet at the library during both daytime and evening hours to accommodate demand and range of English language abilities. These groups are part of a network of more than 200 ELL groups that meet at public libraries throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Lucia Escobar, who has been the point person for this partnership and serves as a reference librarian with a specialty in community outreach, said she and director Trina Reed agree that the ELL groups facilitated by Literacy Nassau are beneficial “since our community has become more diverse.”
A report released by Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman found that four in 10 residents are part of the minority population, and 11.7 percent of the Nassau County population speaks English “less than very well.” The Town of Hempstead is ranked first in diversity.
The ELL groups are not limited to Levittown card holders, but are open to any qualifying adult in need of literacy and English language skills. The native languages represent a broad mix of cultures, including Chinese, Creole, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish.
Literacy Nassau provides training for the instructors, who work on a volunteer basis. Erica Davis, the instructor of Monday’s Level 2 ELL class, has been a group leader for a year and has 38 years of experience as an elementary vocal music teacher.
For Davis, the experience is equally rewarding and she is “so happy to be here [teaching ELL].” Her students view the group as a safe space, and Davis is often a sympathetic ear to whom they confide their personal struggles. Davis said she “feels the sense of frustration and isolation [her] students are experiencing, not understanding the language or the customs of our complex society.”
The ability to communicate effectively is vital to anyone’s well-being, and is needed when an individual is contending with a new culture, and with different customs and laws.
“Offering these programs has helped many non-English speakers learn the basics of the language, which not only builds the foundation to start communicating with other members in the community, but in the long run, benefits their lifestyle,” Escobar said.
In 2018, the Levittown Public Library received a grant provided by New York State and distributed through Nassau Library System that enabled them to create a program focused on “Adult Literacy Workforce Development.” The program took place in April 2018 and, according to Escobar, “introduced basic English learning and computer and software skills for non-English speakers who were beginning to do workforce development and job searching.”
Collectively, these resources prove that for local residents, there is no better place to improve their English than at the Levittown Public Library.
—Jessica Carruba is a librarian
at the Levittown Public Library