This self-paced or teacher-guided course, developed by the Sacramento County Office of Education’s Internet and Media Services Department (IMS), covers all three pillars of immigrant integration: linguistic, civic, and economic. It includes 23 contextualized intermediate ESL lessons, including hundreds of multimedia elements, that promote learners’ access to the knowledge, skills, resources, and services necessary for success in the United States.
How did this course come to be? According to Andrea Willis, Director of USA Learns, “About two and a half years ago, I was at a meeting with a USCIS community relations officer, and she mentioned a book called Welcome to the United States – A Guide for New Immigrants. The idea struck me that we should create an integration ESL course for USA Learns. After confirming the concept with some experts in the field, we put wheels in motion to build the new course.”
Key features of Access America:
- Aligned to EL Civics objectives and IELCE/IET goals. The course covers a wide range of integration topics, including community resources and participation, financial literacy, education, child care, career, and health and well-being.
- Aligned to Employability Skills objectives. Access America also covers a variety of topics related to finding a job and succeeding at work, including conducting career research, finding training resources, searching for a job, writing a resume, interviewing, seeking promotion, and developing soft skills.
- Promotes and fosters digital literacy. Each lesson includes a digital skill focus, including topics such as internet security and privacy and ways to navigate a variety of useful websites and apps.
- Connects learners to resources and support services. Topics include getting legal help, applying for citizenship, and accessing a wide variety of community resources.
- Connects learners to their communities via In Your Community activities that take the online course into the ‘real world’ and encourage learners to apply their knowledge to their local area.
- Develops listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. The course includes extensive vocabulary practice and listening comprehension activities, as well as reading, conversation and grammar skill practice.
- Builds learners’ understanding of the integration process. Each unit is aligned with an immigrant integration stage as the course follows the story of the Martinez family during their first five years in the United States after immigrating from El Salvador.
Why was the course developed? While learning English can be a key component of success for newcomers to this country, immigrants and refugees also need support accessing the knowledge, tools, and resources needed to navigate systems and acclimate to life in the U.S.
“This course was developed with the desire to help new Americans build their English language skills while developing their own unique pathway to socioeconomic success in the U.S.” says Domminick McParland, Management and Program Analyst of OCTAE, who kindly helped staff of USA Learns to plan and conceptualize this new course based on research related to immigrant integration.
Access America includes not only a learner side, but also a teacher side. Students register on the site to save their scores, continue studying where they left off, and communicate with their teacher. They can also practice speaking by recording their voice, writing by getting immediate feedback, along with doing all the other activities that USA Learns provides. Teachers can also monitor students’ progress, track scores and time spent by creating a free account and courses on the USA Learns teacher site.
Here’s what teachers are saying about Access America:
“I had the pleasure of testing the beta course with my students, and they really enjoyed it. It was user friendly with Beginning High students and they thought the information was useful. As a teacher, I’m especially excited about the “In Your Community” activities.” Alisa Takeuchi, ESL teacher at Garden Grove Adult Education and OTAN Subject Matter Expert
“The new Access America course includes many activities that greatly enhance multiple literacies: language, culture, civic, financial, and digital. The course applies language skills in a real world context, thereby strengthening a student’s civic life. We are looking forward to enhancing our EL Civics curriculum and assessments with Access America. Next year, I will be teaching low intermediate students, and I am planning to use Access America DAY 1 of the new school year. Kudos to USA Learns!” Jennifer Gagliardi, ESL / U.S. Citizenship teacher at Milpitas Unified School District
If you have questions about USA Learns or Access America, please email email@example.com.
You can also view the Distance Ed Strategy Session from November 12, 2021 featuring the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE). This lightning talk highlights the latest updates to make the free USA Learns platform optimized for mobile users and shows how one adult education ESL teacher uses the site with her beginning-level students.
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