Community Asylum Seekers Project develops language-learning program

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – As it welcomes more participants into its program, the Community Asylum Seekers Project is facing the dilemma of how to integrate them into life in Windham County, including finding meaningful work with limited English-language skills. Seven asylum seekers in this area have been gainfully employed, yet a few have lost job opportunities because of barriers to the full understanding of directions.

Federal regulations have doubled the wait time for work permit eligibility, so CASP has designed a language-learning plan that takes advantage of that wait to better prepare asylum seekers to find work and keep it. Adaptable for all levels, from beginner to advanced, it focuses on language learning plus vocational and cultural skills.

Called a curriculum map, it is made up of nine units in sequence that cover everyday life, from learning about the community, home life, safety, health and wellness, the natural world and work to money and banking. There is also the flexibility to adapt the map to individual needs. Each unit suggests experiences, activities, and excursions to enhance the learning and get the students out into their new world.

While the curriculum map was designed for use locally, CASP has licensed it for non-commercial use and plans to publish it online for use by teachers of any language, locally and nationally. “It is arranged by units, so it is highly flexible,” said John Bohannon, creator of the vocational segment of the plan.

The language segment was devised by Nancy Lindberg, a teacher of English at the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, in collaboration with Jennifer Borch, the education program director at USCRI. Project task co-directors are Dorothy Leech and Francie Marbury, CASP board members.

The curriculum was reviewed by representatives of local businesses and organizations, including Paul Millman, former CEO of Chroma Technologies, Alex Beck of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, and several instructors connected with The School for International Training. During preparation of the curriculum, planners interacted with personnel from 15 local businesses. It was funded by a $14,000 grant from the Clowes Foundation of Indianapolis.

Now that the pandemic is winding down and in-person learning can resume, CASP will be applying for a grant to implement the map by hiring a teacher and finding an appropriate classroom space. In the meantime, it is seeking possibilities for field-testing of the map, contributions to the plan, and feedback.

CASP was founded in 2016 and provides material and moral support to those seeking asylum from violence and poverty in their home countries by finding host families for them, helping with food and other daily needs, assisting them in navigating the asylum claim process, and helping them achieve eventual independence as they proceed through the process. Currently, CASP is supporting 14 individuals in Windham County. Kate Paarlberg is executive director.

Further information can be found at www.caspvt.org, on Facebook, or by contacting CASP at P.O. Box 1355, Brattleboro, VT 05302 or 802-579-1509.

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