When Talita Silva left her small town in Brazil to work as an au pair in St. Paul last December, she dreamt of using her two-year visa to travel the U.S. and improve her English in order to one day become a flight attendant.
Instead, the coronavirus pandemic halted all travel, and Silva found herself spending most of her time with her host family, learning and experiencing what she could from the family’s home. Knowing she needed to improve her English, Silva began to search for a school that would sharpen her language skills for free.
She soon found Hubbs Center, a St. Paul nonprofit that offers a wide range of free adult education and job training classes, and enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course.
“When I came here, my English was really, really bad,” Silva said. “I keep improving, but it was terrible. Hubbs Center had a lot of patience. They were so friendly and gave me a lot of information.”
Pleased with her experience, in October Silva decided to also register for a 12-week online Introduction to Nursing Assistant course, one of several job training classes Hubbs Center offers. With growing interest in the medical field, Silva said she’s no longer focused on becoming a flight attendant.
“I have many people in my life who help me, so maybe now I can have an opportunity to do the same for other people,” Silva said.
Silva’s teacher, Kathleen Bjornson, has taught the nursing assistant class for several years and explained why the program is a great gateway into the medical field.
“Because it’s free, it gives you an introduction where you can say, ‘Yeah, I could do this,’ or maybe ‘No, this is not for me,’” Bjornson said. “And then you know that, before spending more time and then eventually money doing it.”
Adult Basic Education Assistant Supervisor Karen Gerdin said the goal of Hubbs’ job training classes is to prepare students for careers while simultaneously increasing their academic skills. So while a student is learning nursing, she said, that student is also developing reading, writing and math skills.
On an average, in-person day, Gerdin said Hubbs serves around 700 students, with anywhere between nine to 30 students in a class and more than 70 different languages spoken. Many of these students come to Hubbs to learn English, so the center develops classes specifically for these students.
“I think the nursing assistant class originally came to be because there were people going to Red Cross classes and their English level wasn’t high enough, so they weren’t able to succeed,” Volunteer Coordinator Ruth Rodriguez said. “So we’re kind of specialists in working with English language learners and people who are working at the basic skill level.”
A goal of Gerdin’s has been to get all of Hubbs’ job training classes online – doing so would allow not only a greater classroom capacity but also specialized curriculums for students at a higher reading level. The pandemic has been a blessing in that aspect, she said, as it forced teachers to do their curriculums virtually.
Bjornson, however, misses her students and said she has faced challenges in conducting her classes in a virtual setting.
“It is hard to exactly duplicate that atmosphere,” Bjornson said. “There are ways of having the students interact, but they have to download a lot of different apps sometimes for that. Their computer skills might not be strong enough, or maybe they’re doing it on their phone instead of a computer. There are a lot of barriers, but we’re making it work.”
Silva echoes Bjornson, adding that her Brazilian background has made staying productive in her classes while stuck at home even more difficult.
“Brazilians, we like being together,” Silva said. “It’s hard for me because I grew up on a farm, so I don’t like to sit at home. So when I am in class at school, I can be very, very focused. But now, here online, I am not 100% focused.”
Hubbs is always looking for grants and foundation money to both start up and continue job training classes. Now, they’re also focusing on staying in the loop about new classes that could be beneficial and referring students to other centers that may fill needs it cannot.
“That’s always something we look for in the future, and currently,” Gerdin said. “How can we continue doing what we’re doing? What new or needed job training is out there that we should offer to our students?”
Students interested in taking Adult Basic Education or job training classes at Hubbs can register through an online form.
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