On the evening of Nov. 1, the silence of the Lillian Marrero library branch was broken by the laughter and conversation of Latino residents from the Fairhill neighborhood. These residents were taking part in a free ESL tutoring program offered by the Philly Socialists, a volunteer organization that operates under the tenets of socialism to encourage community participation and cooperation. The group provides neglected communities with educational, cultural and social services.
Their ESL classes have taken place once a week between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. for over a year, and are free to anyone interested in learning or improving English language skills. “The folks that come in want to be here,” Philly Socialist Tim Horras said. “They want to learn from someone with a fluent background in the English language in a friendly atmosphere.”
Students, whose ages range from three to over 50, vary in English speaking and reading skills. Some bring in homework for assistance while others sit and read English newspapers and books under the watchful eye of the Philly Socialist tutors. “We have people who come in who don’t speak any English at all to others who are fluent and just want to practice their conversational skills,” Horras added.
When the program began, all participating tutors were enrolled as Temple students. Yet, as the number of students and tutors quickly grew, the Temple restriction fell by the wayside. There is also no longer a restriction to only use the classes to lean and practice English. “It’s not just an English class,” Philly Socialist Emily Duffy said. “It’s a program that offers general knowledge for the Latino community.”
The program now occasionally offers bilingual programs that include lessons in criminal and civilian rights, such as how to converse with a police officer during a traffic stop. “We just did a program on citizenship for our students,” Horras said. “We want them to understand what it is, if they have it and how to get it if they don’t.”
Despite the growing number of interested and participating students, the Philly Socialists are still able to break off into one-on-one pairs for more intensive work. The classes have fostered significant student progress, evidenced by one student who is days away from becoming an ESL tutor.