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ICYMI: The common goal for these students is education. The potlucks are pretty worldly, too

The Centre for Employment and Learning is a one-stop shop for adult learners, offering an ESL program with students from all over the globe
Sharifa Suleiman, Dawood Mozafari and Hiwet Geraziher pictured at The Centre for Employment and Learning - Stratford.

In case you missed it. This article was previously published on StratfordToday. 

In a small classroom space just off the downtown core, students from around the world are listening intently to their teacher. 

Enrolled in the Avon Maitland District School Board's English as a second language class, the adult learners are living in Stratford and area after leaving countries such as Iraq and Costa Rica, China and Ukraine.

Many more from around the globe have learned English in this program over the years. 

"I have taught people from over 100 countries," ESL instructor Marjorie Schoemaker told StratfordToday. 

During this particular ESL class, Schoemaker has brought in a guest instructor to teach the students about income taxes. 

Some of the students have earned advanced degrees back home, and taught at prestigious universities. Others have lived in Canada but never got around to learning a language other than their native tongue. 

Their connection starts with a desire to learn English. 

"English is very important," said Dawood Mozafari, who speaks Dari, the language of 35 million people in his native Afghanistan.

He is excited to learn a new language, one that he knows he must command for interviews to get into school or apply for a job. 

"Everywhere you go people speak English," he said. 

With an electrical engineering degree earned in Afghanistan, he hopes to study engineering in Canada, once his English improves. 

Sharifa Suleiman, originally from Tanzania, said learning to speak and write can be hard at times but she is enjoying the course. Her classmate Hiwet Geraziher, from Eritrea, located in east Africa, said any new language is difficult. They sit together and agree that though challenging, what they are learning is rewarding. 

The ESL program is offered at the The Centre for Employment and Learning, a one-stop shop for adult learners that includes a well-respected PSW program. 

Run through AMDSB, in a space adjacent to Stratford Intermediate School, the site is the largest of seven centres across Huron and Perth counties. 

There is just enough space for everyone. In the next room over, a group of adult learners are studying to earn their high school diploma. 

Erin Jones, site coordinator lead for adult credit ESL and PSW programs, said about 200 people are enrolled in the ESL program, including some province-wide that are studying online, receiving instruction from Stratford teachers. 

About 35 students attend in-person at the adult education facility. Most are newcomers to Canada, Jones said.

"They have to be a refugee claimant or Canadian citizen born in another country."

Some have recently become adults, while the oldest in this class, a university professor at home in the Middle East, is 82-years-old. Some 250 people are registered in adult education with the goal of either a high school diploma or credits for college/university programs. 

A lot of the adult education programs are independent, or correspondence-based. Some students are juggling jobs and families, "like the rest of us," Jones said. 

Jones said many adults don't realize how close they are to getting a high school diploma and the course load is not as heavy as high school. 

Students can register year-round and most programs offer continuous intake for much of the year. 

In the most recent graduation class, the oldest student was over the age of 80, and a high school diploma was a bucket list item, Jones said. 

"Some want to tell their kids, or want an apprenticeship. Some want to go to college or university, too."

Eleven staff look after the Stratford programs. Schoemaker and Jones said one of the best parts of the job is finding out that an ESL student went on to further their education. 

"They let us know when they get their citizenship or have a baby," Schoemaker said. "Or if they were in ESL, if they got their Grade 12."

Schoemaker said in 23 years of teaching, the diversity of incoming students has continued to expand, from mostly Asia and South America, to all over the globe. 

Added Jones: "The beautiful thing in an ESL class is people are sitting beside each other that might not in another part of the world. You learn to accept each other. The support in that class is truly heartwarming."

Once in a while, students are encouraged to bring in food for a shared meal. Jones said the diversity of options is amazing. 

"They have the best potlucks."