Pandemic impacts local English language learners

For 20 years LearningWorks tutors and students, including Andy Meyer and Fatima Penayo, were able

For 20 years LearningWorks tutors and students, including Andy Meyer and Fatima Penayo, were able to have one-on-one in-person sessions. The pandemic, however, has forced those English language classes to be offered virtually. The organization has found the switch has had both advantages and disadvantages. Courtesy / LearningWorks

PORTLAND — The coronavirus pandemic has cut attendance at LearningWorks’ popular English language learner classes by about half.

After 20 years of providing in-person tutored English classes, the Portland non-profit last spring was forced to pivot to online lessons.

“When the pandemic hit it was a shock to all of us and really disrupted a lot of learning routines our students and teachers were experiencing,” said Rachel Evenson, director of the English language and literacy program at LearningWorks.

LearningWorks had 100 tutor-student pairs prior to the pandemic, but that number now is down to about 50, Evenson said.

Some tutor-student pairs have successfully made the transition to online instruction, but others haven’t been able to do so because they don’t have the technical resources to make the switch or because their focus has changed to keeping their families safe, Evenson said.

One successfully transitioning student is Diana Avendaño of Falmouth, who has continued her English language study online as she prepares for the IELTS, an exam used by colleges and universities to measure the English proficiency of international students.

But her success comes with challenges.

“The online instruction has worked, but it is harder to stay focused because where (I study is the space) where I normally do other things and there’s more distractions,” said Avendaño, a Colombia native who moved to the United States two years ago and has been studying English at LearningWorks for the last six months.

She prefers in-person instruction.

“I think when you take an (in-person) class you can express better than when you are online,” Avendaño said.

Lauren Jordy, a retired teacher who has been helping two LearningWorks students with their English skills, said the switch to online instruction, although unfortunate, has provided a benefit.

“We have a really great opportunity to teach the vocabulary of the internet to them as well, which really improves their literacy in using devices,” Jordy said.

LearningWorks Executive Director Heather Davis said some “people are burned out on screens” and she hopes to be able to resume in-person instruction in the near future. Online learning can be convenient, she said, but in-person instruction is key.

“Convenience doesn’t always outweigh the benefits of creating community and teaching and learning in person” Davis said.


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