Students help immigrants learn English

March 28, 2016

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Ten students from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville are tutoring adults and children with limited English speaking skills at Presentation Lantern, a nonprofit, drop-in center sponsored by the Sisters of the Presentation in Dubuque, Iowa.

The center offers hospitality, educational opportunities and advocacy to adult immigrants. Since 2002, the center has served individuals from the local area and across the globe, welcoming people from five continents and 59 countries. Since opening, 70 individuals have studied for and passed the United States citizenship test.

UW-Platteville students participating in the tutoring program are enrolled in the Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education course, which is a required course for all teaching majors and is also open to other students to fulfill ethnic and gender general education requirements. The course is taught by Dr. Edina Haslauer, senior lecturer in the School of Education at UW-Platteville.

“We like to believe that our educational system is ‘the great equalizer,’ which has been built on the principle of meritocracy,” said Haslauer. “While it does provide upper mobility for many, in my class, students examine the ways in which the educational opportunities of marginalized groups are very different from what middle-class white students tend to have. In doing so, students learn about diversity in both society and schools, while they explore their assumptions and beliefs about themselves and others. As a result, I hope that students develop a sense of commitment to equity and civic responsibility.”

“As part of the class, students choose from a variety of service learning sites, such as Presentation Lantern, that provide them with an opportunity to build positive relationships with people who are different from themselves,” said Haslauer. “In this process, the ‘us versus them’ mentality often breaks down. Students also start to understand the strengths and struggles of marginalized groups and the value of diversity, which enables them to become future classroom teachers or employees in a diverse school or workforce.” 

“Volunteering at Presentation Lantern may be one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Putting my knowledge into a real-world scenario where my success could mean that I help people is worth far more than anything I’ve ever experienced in a lecture hall.”

                    – Andrew Schmitt, student

At each tutoring session, the student volunteers work with program participants on English speaking and writing skills as well as practical life skills to use in a new country. As the students and participants get to know each other better, they often share their stories and cultures with each other.

“Volunteering at Presentation Lantern may be one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” said Andrew Schmitt, a senior social science comprehensive major from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. “Putting my knowledge into a real-world scenario where my success could mean that I help people is worth far more than anything I’ve ever experienced in a lecture hall.”

“What I enjoy most about volunteering at Presentation Lantern is the positive learning atmosphere it provides and the connections I’m able to make with the people I tutor,” said Mariah Enerson, a senior Spanish education major from Spring Green, Wisconsin. “I am always being challenged to explain a concept in a different way, to give more examples, or to slow down when I'm speaking, and I love that. I also love the moments when the people I work with laugh or smile. It means they are enjoying themselves. That’s my goal. English is a difficult language to learn and it can get discouraging. I’ve found when it’s enjoyable for them, the more they want to learn, and thus the more rewarding it is for them.”

“It has been my pleasure to welcome UW-Platteville students and I have had very good experiences with them,” said Corine Murray, PBVM, executive director of Presentation Lantern. “For over a dozen years, Presentation Lantern has partnered with UW-Platteville as a place where students work one-to-one with adult immigrants from many different countries. The students help immigrants learn English, prepare for the citizenship test and adjust to a new culture. I was always impressed with how much the students learned and how they grew in their appreciation of the importance of hospitality, a key part of our mission. The exit interviews with UW-Platteville students were always wonderful conversations that confirmed how this experience changed them in some significant way.”

UW-Platteville students participating in the service learning project include: Schmitt; Enerson; Lynn DeWall, a junior elementary education/early childhood major; Joanna Kortenkamp, a senior biology major; Sam Neisius, a sophomore technical education major; Elizabeth Pratt, a senior biology major; Molly Tillmann, a sophomore biology major; Justin Wartzenluft, a junior professional and creative writing major; Michael Wesp, a sophomore technical education major; and Tyler Stewart, a junior building construction safety management major.

The service learning project at Presentation Lantern is funded by the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, a transformative initiative for the campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement at UW-Platteville. Funding for PACCE is through a partnership of students, university, alumni and community members. PACCE projects are designed to enhance the community as well as provide students with hands-on service learning opportunities that allow them to incorporate classroom learning with projects and programs in a business or organization in the community.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The volunteer work aligns with three of the priorities, including enriching the tri-states, providing an outstanding education, and fostering a community of achievement and respect.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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