By Jubenal Aguilar
Sports and academics melded in Brookhaven College’s ESOL Sports pilot program in the Spring 2016 semester. International students and students in Brookhaven’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program participated in a combination of instructional and physical activities designed to teach English by engaging them in conversations and in getting active.
Jamileh Stroman, ESOL reading professor, said over 70 students attended the first meeting, on March 28.
Sandron Juliano, Office of Student Life student assistant and former ESOL student, presented the idea for the program in Spring 2015, Ray Attner, marketing and business administration professor, said. Juliano’s goal for the program was to provide an opportunity for ESOL and international students to make good use of their time while getting educated, Attner said.
“His initial idea was to have an [ESOL] class that for part of their learning process would spend time in sports activities,” Attner said. “The idea was that students had a lot of time.” The students take only ESOL courses and, because they are international, may not necessarily have a lot of social connections, Attner said.
The instructional component of the program consisted of vocabulary and conversational interaction while and sports activities made up the practical aspect.
Instructional activities were designed to correlate with sports terms the students are likely to use while playing, Claudia Valerio, a communications lab assistant who helps put with the program, said.
Andy Chaney, ESOL listening/speaking professor, said it is important that students be able to learn and use the terms during their activities.
After the instructional sessions, which included vocabulary games, songs and poems, students separated into groups to play sports. Students had the option to choose a sport for the day.
Sheri Van Court, reading, writing and grammar ESOL professor, said the first sport incorporated was soccer. Walking and yoga were later added.
Among the challenges of starting the program, Attner said, was implementing their plans into action late in the semester. Facilities, such as classrooms and sports fields, had to be reserved around previously developed schedules.
“I think also handling expectations of everybody is a little bit challenging because … people have different ideas of what it can be,” Chaney said. Students initially wanted to include other sports such as tennis, basketball and volleyball, Valerio said.
Because the program was in the pilot phase, they could not deliver on every request, Attner said. “The idea is that you just minimize the activities and … focus [on them],” he said. After the pilot ends, the involved faculty will evaluate the outcomes and consider possibilities for expanding onto new activities, Attner said.
“We’re even figuring out what to wear,” Stroman, said. “That was a big issue with the yoga group.” She said the group had to figure out what was appropriate for practicing yoga. Stroman said: “I didn’t expect the guys to be asking me, ‘Do you wear a cup in yoga?’ I don’t know, but I’m having to learn.”
The involved students have immediately seen the social benefits of the program, Valerio said. Many students that did not get along before are closer now, she said.
“It’s a really good program because it allows international students to make friends, to meet, to learn English through the sport,” Guiguine Bolomo, a student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said. “When you come here as an international student, at first you don’t have friends. You don’t really know people. But through the sports you make teams. You learn to collaborate with people.”
Estefania Layay, a student from Ivory Coast, has also seen the benefits of participating in the program. She said, “I’ve made a lot of friends here too.” She said she can communicate with her new friends and learn English quickly.
Student Véronica Crosby, from Mexico, said she feels more relaxed and ready to continue with her classes after taking yoga.
Developing leadership skills has been a benefit some students have seen in addition to the social, educational and physical benefits of the program.
Mohamed Almohaid, a student from Kuwait, said he began taking yoga classes at Brookhaven in Fall 2015. Now he leads the ESOL yoga group and teaches yoga to other students and faculty participating in the program. “Yoga is a good exercise for breathing and to be more flexible,” Almohaid said.
“[He] is doing a lot of extra outside reading so he can digest what he reads and bring it back and teach the rest of us,” Stroman, who is participating in the yoga classes, said.
The instructors helping with the program are seeing benefits too, Stroman said. “I’m doing yoga twice a week now,” she said. “So it’s helping me a lot.”
Juliano said the students in the program have begun to be more active in other campus activities as well. He said they participated in the Color Run 2016 in April. In an email to The Courier, Lauren Orosco, 2015-2016 Student Government Association president, said 19 of the 35 participants in the Color Run were international students.
Juliano, Chaney, Van Court and Stroman, who Attner said are all working with the pilot program on a volunteer basis, all said that the students participating have had a positive response.
Chaney said they are meeting students they otherwise might not meet. She said they are taking advantage of what Juliano believed was lacking – an activity for them to socialize and practice their English.
Juliano said some students have asked for Fridays to be included in the schedule of meeting days. He said the students did not want the pilot to end. Stroman said the yoga students feel the same way – they do not want the program to stop. “They’re making plans on how to continue,” she said.
Van Court said it was wonderful to hear the students want to continue to meet during their scheduled exams.
“The plan is to grow this into a scheduled class, or classes with multiple sections,” Attner said. “Hopefully down the road this will have some legs and go into summer camps and some other opportunities.”
Attner said they are discussing when and how many sections to schedule as well as standardizing content to ensure all students get the same experiences. “We’re trying to identify the activities that [the students] want because that means that they will be there and participate,” Attner said.