This month, I met with Clair Chean, the director of the Refugee Transition Center (RTC), who is interested in starting an English conversational class at the RTC in the evenings. This class would primarily be for the parents of Kent School District students and would provide an opportunity for those parents enrolled in formal ESL classes to gain additional practice, but more importantly, could allow mothers of young children initial access to English language skills.
To remain eligible for TANF benefits, parents are required to spend 35 hours a week conducting a job search and taking ESL classes. However, if the family has very young children, one parent can be excused from this requirement for childcare reasons; this responsibility often falls on the mothers. And while they may choose to take ESL classes of their own accord, they are not granted a bus pass or provided daycare for that time. For most of JFS’s refugee families, spending an additional $20 a week on the bus to take classes is simply a luxury that they cannot afford, leaving the mothers with few social and educational outlets. While it is discouraging to note these institutionalized barriers, I am very excited about the possibility of the RTC class, which would provide on-site childcare and be within walking distance of many of our clients, granting these women the opportunity to begin to gain the skills they need to successfully integrate into their new community.