The halls of St. Patrick’s adult school are dimly lit and almost seem to groan with age. But the bright faces of hopeful students light up the peeling walls of this Centretown school each day.
Located at 290 Nepean St., St. Patrick’s home to one of four English as a Second Language facilities run for adult immigrants by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. The ESL programs of Ottawa boast students from over 90 countries and 190 language groups.
“It’s quite a diverse program.” said Marianne Kayel, the ESL administrator in charge of St. Patrick’s. “It changes all the time.” The program has over 6,000 participants across the city each year.
St. Patrick’s has been offering English classes for Canadian newcomers for well over a decade. They feature classes from basic literacy to advanced English, and further onto computer office programs and social media training.
Students are given placement tests to make sure they are in an appropriate course for their abilities. “It is very hard, but I know I will get better.” said Ed Amandete when asked about his program.
Amandete is a current student at St. Patrick’s. An immigrant from Colombia, he arrived in Canada three weeks ago, leaving his family to try his luck in what he calls a land of opportunity. “I learned English in Colombia, but it was not to the same level.” he said. Many students, like Amandete, have basic English skills but are not equal to the task of functioning in an English society unaided.
Amandete is working on his English to find employment. Kayel said this is common for her students. “We have lots of students who stay a long time.” She added. “They start small and work their way up.”
One of the biggest benefits of St. Patrick’s language programs is that they’re free for the majority of students. The ESL programs of Ottawa are funded mostly by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, making them more affordable and accessible for those who need them. Permanent residents, refugees and Canadian citizens are all eligible for free tuition to St. Patrick’s.
18 per cent of Ottawa’s population is comprised of people who are originally from outside Canada. Yes, Canada’s beating heart, her capital, is home to over 185,000 ‘new’ Canadians. Many are fleeing danger, many are searching for a safe haven to raise a family and many need help to find a place they can belong. English programs, like that at St. Patrick’s are a stepping-stone to a more stable future.
Thousands of faces from have emerged from St. Patrick’s aged halls with their faces shining with the satisfaction of their achievements. Ed Amandete and all of his classmates are working to be next.