Crossroads Cafe puts English on its menu

Pilot program helps nine students learn the language


Anna Efimova sat at a small table in a Carroll County library with a pen in her right hand and a workbook and a notebook opened in front of her.

She pointed to an unfamiliar word in the workbook - "suspicion" - and asked Erica Callaham about its pronunciation and meaning.

"It's easier if you say it fast," said Callaham, an adjunct instructor for English Speakers of Other Languages at Carroll Community College.

Efimova, who emigrated from Russia four years ago, listened intently and took notes occasionally as Callaham spoke, adding the instructor's explanation of "suspicion" to her dictionary research.

For 20 minutes Wednesday, Callaham answered Efimova's questions, advised her about proper sentence structure and discussed the differences between conversational and written English.

During the next several months, Efimova will go to the North Carroll library branch in Greenmount on Wednesdays and Saturdays to study in the Crossroads Cafe program. The initiative uses workbooks, one-on-one tutoring and a 26-episode DVD series to teach English to people for whom it is their second language.

"I can listen; I can read; I can watch, and it is like three types of memory work together," said Efimova, 40, of Reisterstown.

Crossroads Cafe attracted Efimova and eight other students to the 20-week pilot program, which is funded by a $4,100 Maryland State Department of Education grant and organized by representatives from Carroll Community College, Carroll County Public Library and the county's Literacy Council.

The program also is being tested in Howard and Calvert counties.

"They were all very excited," said Becky Maurio, ESOL coordinator at Carroll Community and the project's coordinator for Carroll County. "They wanted to make sure they could come twice a week, so they signed up right away."

The Crossroads Cafe title comes from the accompanying DVDs, which follow the lives of a diverse group of people who work and congregate in a restaurant of the same name.

The DVDs are hosted by Gilda Rubio-Festa, who guides viewers through vocabulary, basic plot lines and the names of characters.

"It really helps students who haven't done this kind of learning," Maurio said. "They have Erica here, and they have Gilda at home."

Callaham agreed that the show's host complements her instruction.

"Some of the students take notes on everything [Rubio-Festa] says," she said.

Each episode also includes two separate features: "Word Play" teaches how to use English for a specific purpose - such as making a complaint - and "Culture Clips" delves into social and cultural elements relating to the preceding episode.

In addition to the videos, which are available for checkout at the library, students received workbooks that corresponded with their English aptitude and can take home worksheets to complete as a form of supplemental work.

The materials were provided to the county by the State Department of Education at no cost and separate from the grant, Maurio said.

"The nice thing about the program is that it's flexible enough that anyone can start at anytime because it is a self-paced program," Maurio said.

The students are not the only ones learning English from the class materials.

When Elizabeth Flores watches Crossroads Cafe, she is joined by her husband and 7-year-old daughter, who speak Spanish as their first language and who moved from Mexico to Hampstead a year ago.

"That's probably one of those nontangible benefits we can't really measure," Maurio said. "[But] as other counties have implemented this, they found it to be true."

The location of the class also promotes library patronage for students and their families, said Lisa Hughes, manager of the North Carroll library branch.

While Callaham works with Die Ci Lei, 38, of Manchester, Lei's family peruses the library, uses the computers and searches for videos.

"By bringing these people into the library to meet with their instructor and using the library services, we're hoping they're going to become library users as well, and they'll spread the word to their friends and family about what's available," Hughes said.

Although Flores missed the Wednesday session, she went to the library and looked at its selection of Spanish-language books.

"I'm really glad that I found this opportunity," said Flores, 24, of Hampstead, through an interpreter. "I would like to continue my studies to do better."

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