The Aquinas Center is a social justice outreach center in an intercultural, multilingual community of South Philadelphia where many of the neighbors are immigrants and refugees. The community is diverse, young, and growing, and it is also challenged by intersecting issues of poverty, immigration policy, limited educational access, and rapidly rising housing costs. Aquinas Center, with a mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action, seeks to accompany and empower families through activities that range from English classes to legal services to after school programs emphasizing literacy.
In 2018, Bloktoberfest granted the Aquinas Center $5,000 to expand their Creative Family English classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, which aim to: (1) create a safe and welcoming space for families, particularly during a time of exclusionary rhetoric and fear, and (2) foster English language learning within families.
Unlike the Aquinas Center’s other adult ESOL programs that deploy a more traditional classroom format, the Creative Family ESOL program introduces students to English through a variety of creative projects, which are designed to include all members of the family and utilize different parts of the center’s facility. This method of instruction is designed to be accessible for families whose lived experiences are complex and might not be able to attend sequential classes that typically emphasize scaffolded learning.
For example, one week the families learn color vocabulary by cutting out photos from magazines that illustrated these colors. Then, they make collages with these color images, and the small collages are assembled into a large color wheel (see below). The following week, families use these color collages posted on the classroom wall to learn emotion vocabulary prompted by the color words. The class then uses the color and emotion words to tell and write simple stories in the third week. Families could plug into these activities each week or miss a week due to illness or work and not feel like their learning was compromised.
Bloktoberfest’s grant expanded the program, so that the Aquinas Center could include field trips, garden projects, culinary activities, and artistic expression with additional mediums and resources (such as theater, printmaking, etc). Moreover, the funds assisted with a stipend for a lead volunteer to ensure continuity across the planning and build out time to apply for future funding to ensure sustainability.