Summer Superstars: The Conversational English Team

Published by Program Manager on

Summer Superstars: The Conversational English Team

Learning a second language, as an adult, takes time, practice and a patient community of people who use the language and support you in your efforts to develop your skills.  BIIN and the many students who have participated in our Conversational English and other programs this year are fortunate that a strong team of interns and volunteer teachers is committed to ensuring that these classes continue this summer.

In June and July, Conversational English classes have been meeting via Zoom every Wednesday evening, from 6 to 8 pm.  Divided into two different levels, the classes vary in their structure and approach:  Level 1 for beginners uses the English for Everyone textbook, following its sequence for building vocabulary and language skills.  The combined Levels 2 & 3 class, for intermediate and more advanced ESL learners, is taking a thematic approach, with each class focused on language and skills needed to communicate in a particular situation, such as when traveling, seeking medical care, ordering food, or making plans for the future. Regardless of the approach, both classes are places where community is created and renewed every week, with the help of additional volunteers, through on-going exchange and lively learning.

Students and volunteers of the Levels 2&3 class gather in a breakout room to practice discussing imaginary health issues.

None of this would be possible without the time and talent of six energetic individuals, all of whom are not only bilingual but also brimming with ideas and desire to make language learning fun.  We continue here our portraits of BIIN’s “summer superstars,” with a focus on the summer 2021 Conversational English program team!

Carolina Kane

Summer Intern (Conversational English program)

Working remotely from her childhood bedroom in Plano, Texas

Enjoys reading, finding safe ways to stay connected to her loved ones (despite the pandemic), and spending time with family and friends!

Notes and quotes from Carolina:

I have really enjoyed working with BIIN this summer. It has been an entirely new experience for me, and I feel like I am learning a lot. My favorite part has been participating in the Conversational English classes via Zoom. I love hearing from the students and getting to see the impact that our work has on their lives. 

The most challenging task has been working on creating a class website with Heather, my fellow intern. We want it to be a resource for students, teachers and volunteers, a way to collect and organize all of the materials related to the class.  I don’t have any experience in website development, so there has been a lot of learning with this project, but I’m really excited to see it come together.

I have been truly impressed with the culture around the volunteers who have made long-term commitments to help this organization. A beautiful community has been built through the hard work of the students and volunteers and it amazes me how they see themselves as a family, rather than a group of strangers.

When summer ends, I will be continuing my education at Texas A&M University as a junior Chemical Engineering major.

Heather Graul

Summer Intern (Conversational English program)

Working remotely from College Station, Texas

Enjoys spending time with family and friends, going on walks, relaxing by the pool or learning new skills (such as more efficient typing!)

Notes and quotes from Heather:

At BIIN this summer, in addition to the clerical side of my internship (organizing volunteers and sending emails/messages to students and volunteers alike), I have worked with the Level 1 class, to provide a learning experience that helps everyone (students and teachers). I love being able to use my Spanish skills when drafting messages and in class when conversing with students and teachers; I have learned so much! I am always excited for class on Wednesday nights because the students have a desire to learn that truly shows when they actively participate. That makes my job rewarding and drives me to continue helping in any way that I can.

Carolina and I are working on a series of client stories to highlight hard-working individuals who are students in BIIN. I can’t wait for everyone to see how amazing our students are!

Prior to becoming an intern, I volunteered for two semesters, helping with the Level 1 English classes. Now as an intern I am impressed with how much everyone behind the scenes works to make BIIN a success. Everyone wants to provide the best possible experience for members of the community, so much so that they will go out of their way to help or find someone who can help. I love this energy at BIIN and am so glad to be a part of it!

BIIN creates an amazing atmosphere for students, volunteers, interns, and staff. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my knowledge and skills with BIIN and learn more about the amazing work that they do for the community!

When summer ends, I will continue to work at my current job on campus at Texas A&M Student Health Services where I am employed as a phlebotomist.  I’ll also be starting my senior year as a Spanish major with minors in biology and Hispanic studies/community engagement.

Nereyda Ortiz de Lemus
Conversational English Co-Teacher, Level 1

Working remotely from College Station, Texas

Enjoys traveling, doing research and advocacy work for women scientists in the developing world.

Notes and quotes from Nereyda:

I have been volunteering at BIIN since October 2020 as an English teacher for Level 1 students. Being a native Spanish speaker has definitely been an advantage in helping me connect with and teach Latin American students. It has been encouraging to see how eager our students are to learn a new language, even at a mature age. Every time we speak, my students talk about their busy lives, due to their demanding jobs and/or the large families they care for, and yet they always show up to class. That is awesome and I always try to honor that by caring about their learning experience.

It has been very gratifying to see their progress throughout the classes. I remember the first time we started to use audio exercises:  they couldn’t understand much.  But as the weeks went by and they got more practice, they were able to understand and even translate the conversations they heard. I also enjoy hearing and helping their pronunciation improve. I use Spanish phonetics to teach them the correct pronunciation of English words, and so far this has worked.

One challenge is that many students have a hard time retaining knowledge from previous lessons. For this reason, I review at the beginning of each class so they can refresh their memory and be ready for new material. Another challenge has been developing their English conversation skills.  Students try to answer questions with the little vocabulary they have, and I generally understand them.  But I know that sometimes it’s hard to come up with the correct grammar, or to keep the conversation going, when you have the pressure to respond quickly and if you feel embarrassed about speaking in a different language. For this reason, I am trying to create room for conversation in class.  I really want to improve my teaching material, so that students can learn more quickly and effectively.

I am really impressed by the eagerness that the volunteers bring to every class. I think seeing students’ progress is the main factor that keeps volunteers excited.

Outside of BIIN, I am a research assistant in the Sociology Department at Texas A&M. Research is one of my passions. I also volunteer with the Organization of Women in Science in the Developing World (OWSD). My main task is to find grant and prize opportunities for Guatemalan women scientists. Guatemalan women scientists have been off the map, but they are truly doing impressive work in Guatemala and around the world. Therefore, my team and I are working to give them the exposure that their scientific work deserves. When summer ends, I will be starting the Ph.D. program in sociology at TAMU!

Sangeetha Puthigai

Conversational English Co-Teacher, Level 1

Working remotely from College Station, Texas

Enjoys being outside (even in the Texas sun!) and birding.

Notes and quotes from Sangeetha:

I co-teach the Level 1 Conversational English classes. In COVID world, I have definitely been able to gain some technology skills! Teaching over Zoom is definitely different. I have learned so much from my students about their lives, their families, their hobbies, their quirks! I’m grateful to be able to call them my new friends — especially during a time in which making new friends was a rarity!

BIIN and its people are all so caring. I’m impressed that this resource exists to help members of our community.

Outside of BIIN, I am a graduate student at A&M studying pollutants in the environment. When summer ends, I’ll be taking classes and learning!

Jake Mason

Conversational English Co-Teacher, Levels 2 & 3

Working remotely from Bryan, Texas

Enjoys reading, music, and the outdoors — not necessarily all at the same time!

Notes and quotes from Jake:

I very much enjoy the opportunity to share time with our wonderful volunteers and amazing students. The students’ desire and motivation to learn English is really inspiring and makes teaching worth it.

I love how BIIN is such an excellent resource to the immigrant community in the Brazos Valley. 

When summer ends, I’ll keep working my “day job” at Texas A&M.

Zoë Schneider

Conversational English Co-Teacher, Levels 2 & 3

Working remotely from College Station, Texas

Enjoys being outdoors, camping, traveling, reading, learning languages, gardening and collecting/caring for plants.

Notes and quotes from Zoë:

I’ve been volunteering with BIIN for 3 years now:  four semesters as a volunteer, one as an intern, and now one summer as a teacher! 

I absolutely love getting to know the students and their stories. Learning why they have decided to learn English and being able to remind them of that when motivation is needed, being able to make the classes personal and the lessons intentional is so rewarding. I love seeing the students’ growth, especially those that have returned and continue to study with us over multiple semesters. 

I’m especially invested in finding ways to make the summer Conversational English classes very conversational and allowing students time to practice and apply the things they have learned in a risk-free, judgement-free environment.

I love seeing how my training as an elementary teacher translates to adult education and seeing what’s different. I think that my experience with children has helped me work with this program, and this program has in turn improved my skills as an elementary school teacher.  

This summer I’m also spending my mornings as a reading tutor.  In the fall, I’ll begin my last semester at TAMU as a student teacher with Bryan ISD!

I have always loved the way BIIN treats its people with dignity. From staff to volunteers to students, everyone is seen and treated with so much respect. I love how BIIN really takes the time to make sure each student and client is getting what they need and no one is just seen as a “number” that can be used for reports. Everything about my experience with BIIN has been so genuine and personal.

A big thank you to everyone who keeps these programs going:  the interns, the staff, the volunteers, and every single person who has ever felt called to donate to these programs! It couldn’t be done without you!

Categories: Faces of BIIN