Family Support Services

Two children leaning on eachother

Integrating Newcomers in West Hartford

A domestic move is hard enough. Imagine moving with your children to a foreign country with minimal knowledge of the culture or language. You would probably feel helpless for yourself and your family. Almost 20 years ago, the Bridge’s Family Resource Center (FRC), in partnership with West Hartford Public Schools, started a program designed to assimilate newcomers and their families into the community.

Appropriately called English Language for Families, the class helps these newcomers with the assimilation process through a multifaceted program centered on cultural awareness and communication. Students meet at Charter Oak Academy in West Hartford three mornings per week to study, learn, and converse in English.

The program flourishes under the careful guidance of Kris Cool, Director of the FRC. She believe that learning English is key to successful integration.  Strong conversational skills open doors to jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and allow newcomers to communicate with neighbors, teachers, healthcare providers, emergency service workers, landlords and others with whom they must interact regularly. English Language for Families also focuses on family literacy. While adult students receive English instruction, including an interactive computer-language program, and parent education, their preschool-aged children attend a structured playgroup that teaches both English and school readiness.

Kris Cool loves to talk about the program. “We have adults learning English in the Charter Oak cafeteria on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.  There are 17 different countries represented from Ethiopia to Viet Nam to Colombia and more.”  One woman in the class is from Nepal. “She is a Sherpa,” said Deborah, “and has climbed Mount Everest six times, but she’s never before attended school.” School in Nepal is expensive, and her family could only afford to educate her brothers.  She is thrilled to be learning English and is thriving in the FRC program and in her new country. “You’re my first teacher,” the Nepali woman told Elizabeth Hanlon, Certified Adult-Education Teacher.  Elizabeth was touched—it brought tears to her eyes.

These parents have come to West Hartford in hopes of providing their children with better opportunities, but without English they are incapable of the most basic daily functions like dialing 911, obtaining a library card, calling the doctor, filling out insurance paperwork, or enrolling their child in school. We provide a personalized experience for our students based on their needs and requests. We plans field trips to Town Hall, the public library, and Playhouse on Park, and brings in guest speakers including police officers, yoga instructors, and job counselors who will further integrate them into our community.

A parent, Parent Educator at the FRC, works with the children who attend the preschool class. The combined program is tailored for a complete family experience. While the parents are in the adult classroom, their children are focusing on a related topic in the preschool class. They may be dressing up as doctors, talking about the tools in a medical kit, or learning English medical terms like “doctor, hurt, Band-Aid, and pain.” Merging the two curricula also allows parents to practice similar English words with their children at home.

Transitioning to a new culture, including learning the language and traditions, can be extremely difficult and emotionally distressing. This program assists people in overcoming the tough barriers to integration. The Bridge embraces everyone’s differences and realizes that newcomers transitioning from other countries are an important part of the social and cultural fabric of West Hartford. Thanks to our supporters, the Bridge can and will continue to respond to the diverse needs of our community with programs like this one.