How to outreach to adult ESL program prospects?
September 21, 2010 10:13 PM   Subscribe

Do you know any tried and true methods of outreach to adult ESL program prospects? We need ideas for spreading the word about this program and hopefully, enrolling new participants. What has worked for your organization?

We are involved in a grant-funded ESL and GED program for adults that provides free learning-centered child care during class time. The problem is that we are having trouble enrolling participants. We have mailed invitations to local prospects, included information with the paychecks of several local businesses, made home visits, and sent notices through the elementary school.

All of our potential participants speak Spanish as their native language so we have asked Spanish-speaking contacts in the local community to help spread the word. What else can you suggest? If you've been involved in a similar program, what worked for you? This is a small town in Texas and we are limited to participants that reside in a specific area.
posted by tamitang to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We have the same problem--even with free meals and free childcare, people are very sporadic in their attendance at our classes. We have had some luck with using our program as an adjunct to the local college's ESL program for people who want even more ESL classes than the two day a week program at the college. We have also provided ESL classes in conjunction with a welfare program coordinator who comes to our office twice a week to enroll people in the welfare program/handle welfare related issues in Spanish. The catch is that they get to sit through a short ESL lesson while they are waiting for their turn to talk to the guy from the welfare program.
posted by MsKim at 10:23 PM on September 21, 2010

My mom used to go to ESL classes. She found out from flyers in the local Latino goods store and from word of mouth from people who had attended previously. My community college's main problem wasn't recruitment, but retainment, as most people genuinely wanted to continue their ESL classes but they were incompatible with their work hours.
posted by cobain_angel at 10:34 PM on September 21, 2010

I've never worked on a program like this, but one idea is ads in the local Spanish language newspaper (if there is one?) and on local Spanish language radio? I assume TV ads might be too expensive - but they'd reach a lot of people.
posted by serazin at 11:39 PM on September 21, 2010

Best answer: I was part of a project that looked at ways to improve delivery of literacy services (including ESL) in our community. We found there were several barriers to recruitment/retention, especially in marginalized populations; you may want to see if any of these apply to the people you're trying to recruit:
  • lack of childcare (you have addressed this already, which is great)
  • lack of [access to] transportation (some programs offer transit passes/tickets)
  • not enough trust built up between learners and the organization offering the program
  • classes are held in a place that has negative connotations for learners (e.g., in our community, we have many residential school survivors who feel more comfortable in a non-school building like a community centre)
  • learners fear looking or feeling "stupid"
  • survival issues get in the way (e.g., people don't have adequate food or shelter; they don't have time to go to class because they are too busy trying to take care of their kids/elders; their work hours don't fit with class times)
  • there may be negative cultural attitudes toward women being in school
One thing that seems to be effective in advertising ESL or literacy classes is stating upfront some of the concrete benefits/useful skills that will be learned in class. E.g. "You will learn how to write a resume and cover letter" "You will learn how to do your taxes" "You will learn how to help your children with their schoolwork" etc.

Good luck. As other posters have said, the problem you're facing is very common, but I think it can improve with time as people get to know and trust your program.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:23 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ads in laundromats, grocery stores, churches, bus stops, and wherever else people traffic. Start with a radius close to where the classes are and spread outward. Promote the hard skills taught and benefits. Make it seem very approachable. Find community leaders and try to recruit them to help.
posted by beardlace at 2:22 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two things that really helped our church-based ESL classes:
1. Word of mouth--if your organization isn't well-known in the immigrant community, you need people within that community to vouch for you. We sent stacks of flyers with all our students. Help them take ownership in the success of the program and in helping their friends. (One of our students even went so far as to make his OWN flyers, which included my home phone number!)

2. Formalizing our classes (strict attendance reqs., homework, etc.) and offering a certificate at the end of the course. We had been offering more of a drop-in style class previously and had fairly low attendance (and it was really hard to teach!). When we changed it to a ten-week "basics" course, we ended up having to add enrollment caps. Generally, the more you ask of people, the more they will step up.
posted by wallaby at 3:30 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am an ESL teacher, but I am not this kind of ESL teacher. :) That said, I have a few ideas, although I don't have personal experience with them.

- Libraries (many people go there to read books in their home languages, get books for their kids, look for jobs, etc., so I have actually heard that this can work well).

- Seconding specialist grocery stores, as mentioned, which may have bulletin boards.

- Seconding churches.

- Is there a day laborer assembly area, either official or unofficial (such as a Home Depot parking lot)? It might be worth taking some flyers there.

Twitter might be a good place to ask this question, too--there are tons of ESL professionals actively using it. You can MeMail me for my professional account username if you want to connect.
posted by wintersweet at 10:08 AM on September 22, 2010

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