The Union Recorder

November 2, 2012

Local church shares the gift of language

Felicia Cummings
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — For a non-native speaker of English, learning the language is essential to integration into the community. In an area where English is the primary language, mastering this skill and breaking through the language barrier can offer several opportunities, but learning a new language can be a challenging and difficult task to tackle on your own. Here in Milledgeville, there is a place that offers support and education for non-English speakers of the community.

Katherin Smith, Shelia Collins and Barbara Goolsby are members of Northside Baptist Church who work hard to spread their blessings to the community at large. Together they run an ESL program, sharing the power and knowledge of the English language to their students. 

“Our programs have highly successful results because of the attention to individual needs of the students,” said John Milledge Academy Spanish teacher Kathrin Smith. Not only does Smith teach a Spanish program for first through eighth graders at JMA, she is also one of the instructors for the ESL program at Northside.

Goolsby teaches the level one class while Collins and Smith teach level two and three. Collins is from the Milledgeville area and has been a part of the home school community for many years. She home-schooled all four of her children and has been active in missions at Northside for many years. Goolsby is the newest member to the ESL team at Northside. Goolsby is originally from Albany but has been part of the community of Baldwin County for more than 20 years. 

The idea for the program first came to Collins. 

“Little over a year ago, my friend Shelia approached me about beginning a faith-based ESL ministry. She followed up with our pastor, Dr. Jerry Pickard, who was very excited at the prospect of beginning this type of ministry,” Smith said.

Collins noticed that many people attending biblical studies were struggling to communicate and integrate in the community. Collins and Smith discovered a training program through the Literacy Missions Board of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and soon the idea became reality. 

Northside has had as many as 17 students enrolled. Currently it has seven students in the ESL class that come from a wide range of international regions including Sri Lanka, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala. Three of their students are interested in becoming U.S. citizens and are actively pursuing this goal. 

“It is a misconception that ESL only focuses on teaching language skills,” Smith said. “Learning the cultural norms that we Americans take for granted is as important as the language itself.” 

Last year the program had a Thanksgiving dinner for the students and their families and discussed the significance of the American holiday. 

The ESL program has many volunteers who help with childcare as well as assisting students with class registration. Northside also offers English and Citizenship classes from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays.

For more information on the ESL ministry, call Northside Baptist Church at (478) 452-6648. 

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