Bridging Cultures: New Immigrants Add to the Fabric of Their Community

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The Township of Plainsboro, New Jersey, is known for the global pharmaceutical corporations and advanced technology laboratories that call it home. Located between the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas, the community attracts a diverse population from all corners of the globe. More than 46% of its residents speak a language other than English at home—and the number is growing.

Plainsboro Public Library (PPL) offers an English as a second language (ESL) conversation class one evening a week and also provides space for ESL courses taught through West Windsor–Plainsboro Community Education and Literacy Volunteers of Mercer County. Recent classes included New immigrants add to the fabric of their community Plainsboro, New Jersey participants whose first languages include French, German, Hindi, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish. Many of the participants are stay-at-home young moms and grand-parents.

Through funding from the American Dream Starts @ your library initiative, PPL was able to build upon its existing efforts and is now even better equipped to serve its growing ESL population. After receiving the grant, PPL added a new course that emphasizes grammar and accent reduction, and it developed a portable language laboratory to improve the ESL skills of its patrons. It also provides day care for the children of caregivers during class time.

Attendees of the class expressed a desire to attend cultural events together. To meet their interest, and as an extra reward for course completion, librarians organized group Plainsboro Public Library offers events and programs that bring together the the township’s diverse population. More than 46% of its residents speak a language other than English at home. outings to a museum or a play.

In addition to cultural activities, these sessions connected the lessons learned in the classroom to everyday life, from taking children to school to visiting the doctor’s office. One of the classes was devoted to health issues and was facilitated by professionals from the Princeton Health- Care System in Plainsboro.

The programs have paid dividends, with former graduates of the ESL conversation class and the community- sponsored classes going on to volunteer or work in the library or elsewhere in the community. Through these programs, PPL has become a place where people from different countries meet and form lifelong friendships.

Peter Cantu, mayor of Plainsboro Township, says the The library’s ESL and cultural programs are popular. Many participants are stay-at-home moms and grandparents whose lessons have included taking children to school, visiting the doctor’s office, and learning about health-related issues. library recognized years ago that there were many people who came to the US who felt isolated. Programs such as this helped build community.

“We have seen a lot of change in Plainsboro,” Cantu says. “Initially, a lot of growth, and more recently a tremendous diversity in our population.”

PPL Assistant Director Carol Quick says the focus group that helped the library determine its needs when it was applying for the grant asked for “more conversation, more customs. We want to learn about the country. We want culture. We want more information.” Thus from the grant came the Cultural Crossroads class. The 16-week class involved members of the community and garnered much needed support from the township. “We had a policeman and a fireman come to explain the services they provide one day,” Quick says. “The outreach person from the hospital also came to the library, and she explained how to read food labels, and she gave us a very personal guided tour of the hospital.”

Resident Claudia Ruiz, who is originally from Colombia and participated in the class, says, “It is very necessary to learn English, because English is the first language in this country.” The library has become a place where people from different countries can meet and form friendships.

The library has become a place where people from different countries can meet and form friendships.

About The American Dream Starts @ your library

For more than a century, public libraries have been a cornerstone of the American Dream, providing equal access to information of all kinds. In fact, libraries are among the first American institutions immigrants turn to for help in learning how to read, write, and speak English.

Since January 2007, the American Library Association (ALA) has funded 100 libraries in 28 states. Each library received a onetime grant of $5,000 to add or improve literacy services to adult English language learners and their families.

The 100 American Dream libraries expanded ESL collections, taught classes, hosted conversation circles, trained tutors, increased computer access, build community partnerships, and raised the library’s visibility.

This initiative is generously funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

For more information visit the American Dream Starts @ your library toolkit.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, including how to make a donation.

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