Helped Foreign Workers Learn English
Magda Kieliszek, an instructor of Vocational English for Speakers of Other Languages (VESOL) at LaGuardia Community College’s Center for Immigrant Education and Training (CIET), is a recipient of the 2012 Literacy Recognition Award, granted by the Literacy Assistance Center in New York.
Kieliszek was recognized for dedication to her students as well as her contributions to the field of literacy and to CIET, which provides free civics, family literacy and workforce training courses to over 500 adults annually.
The award was presented to Kieliszek, along with five others from throughout New York City, at a recent ceremony at The New School in Manhattan. Cheryl L. Keenan, Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Division of Adult Education and Literacy in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, was the keynote speaker.
“This award is richly deserved,” said John Hunt, CIET Acting Director. “Magda epitomizes the best of adult education faculty: she is creative, dynamic, collaborative with her colleagues and, above all, completely committed to the success of her students, who represent an underserved group in our community.”
For the past three years, Kieliszek has been a VESOL instructor in an innovative team-teaching healthcare program that pairs her up with a technical skills instructor to provide students with basic educational and English language skills as well as vocational training. She has partnered in two courses: one that prepares foreign-trained nurses to become licensed practical nurses, and another that trains students for jobs as phlebotomists and EKG clinical technicians.
Each of the courses is an intensive eight-month-long program. Two days a week, Kieliszek teaches solo, working with her students on theirlanguage and study skills, vocabulary and content-related material. She also pre-teaches vocabulary and introduces her students to topics that will be taught in the technical class.
The other two days, Kieliszek and the technical instructor join forces. When the technical instructor is teaching a lesson, Kieliszek, who does not have formal medical training, is busy listening and taking notes on a poster-size sheet of paper. “I can be a student in the class,” she said. “I can ask questions and ask the instructor to paraphrase, because if I don’t understand a term or concept, there is a good chance the students might not.”
“Magda would stop me, in midsentence, if necessary, to ask a clarifying question about vocabulary or a process,” said Professor Philip Gimber, who teaches the practical nursing prep course. “She then has the ability to understand and break down the material in such a way that our students could work with and understand the material being covered. She has mastered LPN content in order to teach it through the lens of language. This is far beyond what a regular English teacher would do.”
Picking up on this sentiment, colleague Beth Godley, Coordinator of CIET’s ESOL Health Programs, who nominated Kieliszek for the award, said, “Magda has lobbied unfailingly for her students and succeeded in winning over her trainer colleagues.”
While in the technical training class, Kieliszek may take over and have the students do an activity that reinforces the lesson. “Through these activities, I ‘ESL-ize’ the work by making the content material more approachable and easier to tackle,” she said. “I clarify some more difficult words or monitor and adjust students’ pronunciations as needed. I explain grammar structures and conduct mini-grammar lessons when I know that it would benefit the students.”
“I think she worked harder than I did to pass my exam,” said Dhondup Lharno, a former student of Kieliszek’s, who is now a licensed practical nurse.
The instructor’s commitment to her students goes well beyond the classroom. She counsels and tutors them, and keeps in touch with them throughout the course, even on weekends.
To show for her efforts, an impressive 97 percent of the students who enter these intensive courses (on average, at a seventh grade reading level) complete the program; and 87 percent of the students pass the national exam to become certified licensed practical nurses.
Kieliszek, who is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center, began learning English in Poland when she was 10 years old. She continued her English studies throughout her school years, and when she graduated from high school decided to major in teaching English. She enrolled in the Foreign Language Teachers College in her hometown and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English.
After teaching English in public and private schools in Poland for two years, she immigrated to the United States and settled in South Florida, where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics and a certificate in ESL studies from Florida Atlantic University. She taught at Project RENEW, an ESOL and job training program for refugees and political asylees, for two years and then moved to New Jersey, teaching ESL at several programs in New York. In 2008, Kieliszek joined CIET and, in addition to her teaching responsibilities, has developed training curricula for home health aides, phlebotomists and EKG technicians. Her learning modules been adopted by the CUNY Curriculum Roundtable for dissemination.
“I feel honored and grateful to have received this recognition. And I’m excited that they decided to recognize a VESOL instructor who works with foreign trained healthcare professionals,” says Kieliszek. “Trainings like ours help immigrants return to their professions and allow them to contribute at the highest level of their abilities.”