Tulare County library offering classes for ESL speakers

Tulare County libraries hope to improve literacy rates in Tulare County with a new class dedicated to teaching English to ESL learners

VISALIA—Literacy rates in Tulare County could begin to gradually climb with the first ever official English as a second language (ESL) class at the Tulare County Library.

The Tulare County Library is offering free classes for adults learning English as a second language in order to cut down on illiteracy rates in Tulare County and reach out to individuals learning ESL. The program is called the Read to Succeed Literacy Program. The goal of the program is to help those learning ESL better understand the community they frequently engage with on a day-to-day basis, according to John Waltmire, librarian for the Tulare County Library.

“That’s why we have our Read to Succeed Literacy Program. We are trying to make sure that we are trying to eliminate illiteracy,” librarian Jonathan Waltmire said. “I know that’s a lofty goal, but I would say that every little bit helps.”

Tulare County has the second lowest literacy rate in the state, which has the lowest literacy rate in the nation at just 77%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The functional illiteracy rate in Tulare County is 41% compared to 23% of the rest of California’s population. One-third of Tulare County residents lack basic literacy skills, a problem that also exists in surrounding counties.

Library service specialist Margarita Lozano worked behind the scenes to coordinate this program and make it happen according to library program and literacy specialist Edward William. He said Lozano has been with the library for about five years and has worked to get the program started since November 2021.

“I think she, alone, has helped some of this program grow,” William said. “I think she’ll do a really good job with our ESL program.”

The California State Library granted the county library $30,000 in financial support to kick off the program. The award of the grant was made possible by a one-time funding the State Library received and will provide funding to the literacy program through 2023, according to Alex Vassar of the California State Library.

According to William, the Tulare County Library has always wanted to do programming for ESL learners but never had direct funding for it. With the grant, the library can purchase more ESL workbook resources and train staff to work one-on-one with ESL learners. It also goes to library materials, salary and equipment like Chromebooks for future ESL Zoom meetings.

The courses will be done online every week and offered in three levels, beginning, intermediate and advanced. William said the beginner session is for individuals who know almost no English and the intermediate and advanced courses will focus more on sentence structure, grammar and practical conversation. Once a month the library will arrange a meeting for the learners with a community partner that will help them with workforce skills, life skills, health literacy and education, said Waltmire.

The Tulare County Library is one of approximately 100 libraries in the state to have a literacy program or adult literacy service. 

“Library programs that do really well with [their ESL programs] are able to work with other community partners and find other spaces to work,” William said. “So that’s really the long term plan, and it’s always our goal to address the literacy issue in the county.”

Vassar said the ESL classes can help adults not fluent in English improve their literacy skills in reading, writing and speaking in English. The anticipated benefits for adults who are able to improve their literacy skills include getting themselves a high school diploma or equivalency, passing the U.S. Citizenship test and improving their job skills. 

William said many of the learners working with the literacy program have said they feel comfortable and at ease working with literacy staff and volunteers.

“During a busy week of obligations for work and family, they feel that coming to our literacy center or working online helps them grow their literacy skills as an adult,” William said. “They leave each day feeling more confident about their life goals as a literacy learner.”

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