ESL Classes

Casa Marianella provides three levels of free English classes–beginning, intermediate, and advanced. ESL classes are available to both Casa residents and members of the community Monday-Thursday, 7:30-9:00 PM. Each term is ten-week long.

Our Teachers and Program

With an emphasis on creating hopeful, empowering, and encouraging environments and dynamic, interactive, and practical lessons, our 57 volunteer adult English as a Second Language teachers from this past year have played a significant role in Casa fulfilling its mission of providing hospitality to asylum-seekers and immigrants from around the world and helping them develop the skills and knowledge they need they start their new lives here.

In addition to preparing and teaching lessons four nights a week in three levels of classes, developing teaching skills though 14 hours of ESL instructor training, collaborating with colleagues at teacher meetings and planning sessions, and participating enthusiastically at Convívio and other Casa events, our teachers are beloved by all for their role in helping to create Casa’s warm, welcoming, close-knit community.

Many teachers, including our experienced Literacy First AmeriCorps volunteers, go on to other important community service careers such as teaching at public schools, working at Refugee Services of Texas or other nonprofits serving immigrants, volunteering with the Peace Corps, reporting on immigrant and refugee issues as journalists, making documentary films on refugee issues, and teaching abroad.

Some teachers, including Brooke Van Court and Rose Miller, have joined our full-time staff!  The service and support of staffers Brooke, Julia Stone, and Livi Raggio as staff ESL Liaisons have been crucial to our success.  In addition to teaching weekly, Sonia Singh and Ashley Davis are also our media directors and have developed our new website, social media presence, and fundraising opportunities.

Psychotherapist Kay Mailander of Refugee Services of Texas teaches a special weekly course on psycho-social/cultural topics such as cultural shock & adjustment, addiction & recovery, responding to stress and anxiety triggers, US law, and more.  She’s invited guest speakers on LGBTQ rights, immigration law, and human trafficking and invites RST social work interns to work with her class.

We’ve also had special ESL events such as Improv Comedy Night, Show & Tell Night, Brazilian Drumming Night with staffer Melissa Buhrt, and pronunciation clinics.  Other guest speakers have included Abby Frank, senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project and Casa board member.

Here’s Why Our Teachers Love Volunteering at Casa:

Casa Marianella’s ESL students are always a pleasure to teach. They are always welcoming and have a unique appreciation for the teachers. I think this is the case because of the community that Casa Marianella fosters through its support and events. I love when students enter class confident and determined to learn, [such as when one] student told us he was relearning how to write because of my team’s habit of writing what we say. Just by giving note-taking a try, he was learning to communicate vocally and orthographically in his new home!
Omar Gamboa
Teaching at Casa has opened my eyes to how much refugees and immigrants risk coming to the United States. I was really affected emotionally when I learned how our residents arrived in Austin, as explained by Japhet [from Nigeria, who] went into detail about how dangerous their journeys are. Then once they get here, they’re faced with learning English and American culture and trying to find a job, house, friends, etc. Their decisions to move here are immensely brave.
Grace Wasson
Learning a new language takes grit, sustained effort, and a willingness to look or sound silly sometimes. Every language learner makes mistakes, which can really affect one’s self confidence. I find that the more humor I can infuse into my lessons– the more excited and animated I can be– the better! When students laugh they grow more comfortable with each other and with me, and I know that their capacity to absorb and learn has increased. I am grateful every day that Casa exists– a special place where people with so many individual stories can find shelter, rest, and find the courage to start life anew.
Courtney Greene
One of my favorite moments was when Alvaro and I shared stories about Guatemala. During a class activity, I learned that Alvaro is originally from there, and during college, I spent a summer living in Solola, a small community in southwest Guatemala. Alvaro lit up as we looked through my photos together and talked about the local beer, his Mayan language, and the beautiful Lago Atitlan.
Blair Pettit
When I started co-teaching with Kay, and even now, I dread speaking in front of groups of any size. However, as time has gone on, I have noticed that I walk away from class every Wednesday night feeling so filled up and overwhelmed with love for our students. They want to be there, and they want to learn and participate. They are awesome and make this experience so worthwhile!
Cassie Saupe
Teaching at Casa Marianella has been so rewarding. The students, even after a long day’s work or a tiring event, are almost always eager to learn and practice their English. This makes teaching exciting and enjoyable when your students come to class ready to grow their English! My colleagues, alongside our ESL Coordinator, are fantastic individuals with open hearts and open minds. It’s a very collaborative, team-driven environment, which is fantastic for me.
Sonia Singh
Casa Marianella is a wonderful community of loving teachers, staff, and residents. Every week I look forward to the smiles, hi fives, and hugs from the residents. Seeing their happiness after they understand a concept makes every second of work worth it. I am so incredibly thankful for this opportunity and can’t wait to see where Casa goes in the future!
Ryan Bullard
More than anything else, I love the sense of community here. At Casa, there’s not a division between students and teachers. As soon as you enter Casa, you are woven into Casa’s fabric. The class wants you to be there, they look forward to you being there. The students make this possible: they’re not only eager to learn English, but to learn about you and laugh with you. Many of them come to class after a long day’s work, but they’re eager to share in a vibrant atmosphere. This attitude is cultivated by the staff. Because they care so much about their residents, it frees the students to care about each other and invest in relationships. Even in the midst of traumatic journeys and pasts, the staff find a way to grow the hope in each resident, and build relationships with each other and with Austin.
Cutter Uhlhorn