For Elmhurst resident Tania Regalado, free English classes opened a door of opportunities.
“It was a great opportunity,” said Regalado, who came to the United States from Ecuador in October 2005. “I had years that I hadn’t studied. I learned a lot.”
The 31-year-old mother of two said she took the English classes at an organization in Manhattan until the center began to charge $400 for two months of classes. Regalado said with the English she has already learned, she was able to get her first job at a restaurant.
Success stories like Regalado’s inspired the City Council to restore $4.5 million of the $5 million in funding the Mayor had cut from the fiscal year 2011 budget for adult English classes for low-income New Yorkers and affordable legal services.
The council’s Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI) stood at $5 million in the fiscal year 2010 after a more-than 50 percent cut in fiscal year 2009.
“I am very pleased with that,” said City Councilmember Daniel Dromm. “It could have been worse. We as a council had to decide if we could pick up the pieces that the Mayor dropped.”
IOI provides legal services to help immigrants claim stolen wages and access legal protection in cases of workplace exploitation. The Initiative is also one of three sources of funding at the city level for English as Second Language (ESL) classes, which serve to improve employment opportunities and supportive services for immigrants.
Regalado attended GED classes in December 2009 taught at Make the Road New York (MRNY), a non-profit immigrant organization in Jackson Heights. She took her GED exam on June 12 and is awaiting her test results.
Over 1.5 million residents, 16-years or older, do not have a high school diploma or GED in the city. She hopes that obtaining her GED will be the first step to getting her master’s degree in mathematics and ultimately becoming a school teacher.
“People come with the expectation to learn and make themselves better,” Regalado said.
Despite the need for adult education and training opportunities for immigrants and other adults, only 3 percent of the 1.23 million adults in the city who speak English “less than very well” are enrolled in English-language programs.
Julie M. Quinton, director of Adult Literacy at Make the Road New York, said there are always more needs than there are resources. She said MRNY didn’t get IOI funding last year, but hopes with the help of Dromm and other elected officials to get the IOI funding restored for the next fiscal year.
“There is a whole aspect of the population that needs to be educated, not just children,” Quinton said. “This cannot be an after thought.”