ESOL Teacher Spotlight: Jessica Cassel

Jessica Cassel, whose mother is an immigrant from Brazil, is one of The Welcome Project’s 33 ESOL volunteer teachers.  She joined our team last year.
Jessica teaches our intermediate English courses and loves the work she is doing. She emphasized that the special thing about teaching at The Welcome Project is how energizing it is to be with the students. She noted, “students really want to learn” and that the best part about her work is “hearing their stories and just developing great relationships with the students.”
Jessica sometimes puts herself in her mother’s position of not knowing anybody and having no support system in a new country with a different language and culture. For many people she teaches, that is exactly what they went, or are going, through; they have come so far from everyone they know.
Jessica first joined our community as an attendee of our annual event, YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City. Jessica said it was very inspiring to see an ESOL student speak to the whole audience in English and demonstrated just how empowering language is. She became very interested in giving people the language tools they need to settle into their new homes. 
During the spring semester, Jessica had her students read a poem called “Everyday We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera. The activity was meant to strengthen skills by reading a poem in English but also spur conversation about the students’ own experiences as immigrants. The poem activity became an unexpected way for students to talk about their own concerns with one another. For Jessica, it was humbling to hear firsthand how stressful the current political climate is for her students. It made her think a lot about ways she can support them. 
When asked about how she has addressed policies affecting immigrants under Trump’s presidency, Jessica mentioned that she has spent a lot more time and attention finding ways to support students both inside and outside the classrooms whether it is through parallel activities like the “Know Your Rights” workshops or working with local organizations. Jessica added, “the current state of affairs poses a lot of issues but I think it also poses a lot of opportunities and it has been a way to engage the students and larger communities about really important issues impacting everybody.” Jessica also reflected on how the current political climate has influenced her role as an educator, “it has enabled us to understand our students better.”
One of the challenges that Jessica faces as an educator is consistency.  “We tend to have the same students...the same core group of students that will stay through the end of the semester; but unfortunately life, jobs, and other commitments interfere and then there is a lot of attrition,” said Jessica. Another challenge she faces is that “every student has different learning styles and although we are teaching one level, you have a lot of gradients of students. You may have a student who is a really good reader and writer but has a very hard time listening.” 
One question that Jessica often asks herself throughout her teaching is, “how do you keep something engaging and relevant for everybody?” Jessica doesn’t think there is one right answer. She has integrated more traditional reading, grammar, and listening exercises with exercises utilizing games and popular songs. She says that this last activity is especially, “fun for everybody! And students start to give their preferences, about what music they want.”
Overall, Jessica is an important member of our community and we are grateful for the work she does. Jessica concludes, “I think community is something that we are losing in some ways, which is only exacerbating growing inequalities. Playing this small role in furthering community is really important to me.”
Thanks to generous donors, our students benefit from passionate teachers like Jessica. Volunteer teacher training keeps our ESOL programs targeted on our mission of empowering immigrants.