The Language of Hope: ESL with Catholic Charities

Paige Royer holds up a paper with a cartoon scene of a beach to her class. The scene depicts a humorous line drawing of a muscled character flexing on a beach. “Can anyone describe what’s going on in this picture?”

Paige asks her class of about 15 adult students. Slowly, hands rise as the students offer up descriptions of the character and the scene. “He looks very strong,” one remarks. “He is trying to impress the girls!” says another. The students chuckle together as they share more descriptions and discuss the picture. This exercise seems like a very simple one; however, Paige’s students are all non-native English speakers.

“Very good conversations!” Paige tells the class with a proud smile.

Since 2012, Paige has volunteered to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with Catholic Charities. Education brought Paige to New Orleans, but not initially for ESL. Her son was just starting at Loyola University, when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. After seeing the work that needed to be done in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Paige’s whole family moved from the New York area in 2006 to join in the recovery efforts.

Having taught ESL at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, Paige felt she wanted to return to ESL in New Orleans. “I’ve always been a word nerd!” she said jokingly.

I had looked around for ESL programs in New Orleans and I got the feeling that Catholic Charities had the best program. I liked the way so many classes are offered and I love the people who run the program. They’re just so on the ball and they give you a lot of support.

Each year, Catholic Charities English as A Second Language program assists hundreds of adult learners from over 30 countries improve their English skills.
Adult students enroll each semester to attend evening group classes and one-on-one tutoring at five sites throughout the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

“I know my students work a lot of long, hard hours often doing thankless jobs.” Paige said. “Sometimes, I see their eyelids fluttering in class and I can tell they’re so tired, but even so, they do a good job making it to class. You know the students are there because they want to be.”

The Newcomb College site at Tulane University where Paige teaches transforms into an international hub weekday evenings with many classes and numerous tutoring sessions found scattered throughout the four story complex. Students of all languages come together to learn, to communicate and to listen to one another. Paige says, “My students come
to class not just for the language help, but because they want to see each other. Invariably,by the end of a semester, we become a pretty tight knit group.”

Commitment from both the student and the numerous volunteer tutors and teachers make this such a successful program, creating confident and articulate students while helping them forge paths to success in the U.S.