The waiting list for English as a second language classes on the Island has more than 80 names, and has left Island educators scrambling for teachers and funds.
The task of teaching English to immigrants to the Island is shared by two programs. The first, the Martha's Vineyard Literacy Program, was founded in 1987 and trains tutors who work with individual students or small groups. Three years ago, the second program - the Martha's Vineyard Adult Learning Partnership - grew out of the local program and has been expanding ever since.
"The need is certainly greater than our ability at this point to meet the need," said Corrine Moran, the coordinator of the Island program as well as the community planner, program assistant and registrar for the partnership.
Although it has steadily increased its class offerings, the state program is accustomed to having a waiting list. "We usually were unable to meet the number of people interested, and that's why we increased," said Jeffrey Agnoli, the director of the partnership. "We went from three ESOL classes our first year to four last year and now six this year, but each year it seems the waiting list has grown even though the program has grown."
The state-funded partnership now offers 10 classes at the high school. Six of the classes are English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) while the others are Adult Basic Education classes that prepare students for the GED high school equivalency degree or instruct them in math and computer literacy.
The partnership has more than 100 students enrolled in its classes, but the waiting list is almost as long. "It's over 80 and that's been true since September. As we place them in class or provide them with a tutor, more people keep coming in," Mrs. Moran said.
The high demand reflects the Island's ballooning immigrant population. "I think initially the volunteer program was able to handle the one on one need for English instruction. There were fewer people on the Island who were interested in that sort of thing, but the population has mushroomed, so the demand has increased greatly," said Janice Ovios a former tutor who has also taught for the high school program.
As people continue to flock here to take advantage of a strong job market, their need for English increases. "The economy is still healthy enough that it draws workers into several of the service areas so that employment can be found in housekeeping and in landscaping, and I suspect that there are more families establishing themselves here," Mr. Agnoli said.
"There's more of a reason to become more competent at English, the more extensive both the length of the stay is and the amount of contact with the public that positions require. And I think perhaps we're having more people stay year-round than in the past," he said.
Unfortunately, cutting down the size of the waiting list isn't as easy as increasing class sizes or adding more classes.
The state mandates that classes remain small; most have between 10 and 14 students. "In the classes at night, we are limited in terms of numbers. The state doesn't want us to have huge classes, which is of course understandable," Mrs. Moran said.
And increasing the number of classes requires additional funds which might not be available. "We are in the first year of a five-year grant; we're not privy to whether or not there'll be an increase in funds," Mr. Agnoli said. "There had been some talk that there would be, but that was before the referendum to cut the income tax passed. Since that time I've heard that spending for such programs will at best remain status quo. We'd be faced with the dilemma of using the number of classes we have differently."
So if funds aren't increased, the program would have to cut other offerings to add ESOL classes. "What we're really hoping is that we'll get more GED students signing up so that we could justify keeping those two classes, which have in the past been beneficial to the community," Mr. Agnoli said. They will be holding registration for these classes next week.
Likewise, while the local program's size is limited only by the number of tutors it can attract, often this is difficult. "There are about 12 at the moment who are being tutored individually. Of course there's a need, but there's a need for tutors," Mrs. Moran said.
Tutors must complete a 20-hour training session, and this costs the program money. Training is usually offered during the fall, but this year a lack of funds postponed it until January. This month's training classes are sponsored by a grant from Farm Neck.
Despite these efforts, educators don't foresee that the waiting list will shrink in future months. "It's a problem and it will continue, because as the spring comes, we will have more people coming to the Island looking for work," Mrs. Moran said.
The spring also means that they won't be moving students from the waiting list into the program. During the fall, students who miss three classes in one month are removed from the program and new students are invited to take their places. "As we near this midpoint in the year, we stop doing that because that would mean new students would be coming into classes where the bulk of the class had been there since October," Mr. Agnoli said.
But with the question of how to meet the need remaining, educators agree that offering services like these are important, not just for the students, but for the entire community. "I think, too, that this is a service for the employers on the Island who need people who are going to be here year-round," Mrs. Moran said.
Students interested in the GED preparation classes (Adult Basic Education) and the computer literacy class with the partnership can register in the high school cafeteria Monday, Jan. 8, and Wednesday, Jan. 10, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The tutor training workshop for the Martha's Vineyard Literacy Program will begin on Thursday, Jan. 11, and will continue on Jan. 16, 18, 23, 25 and 30. Classes will be held at the regional high school from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. To register and for information, call 693-7753.