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USciences Students Teach English to Immigrants in Philly

By Nicole Carrera

Published on August 24, 2020

USciences students have been working with the IHM Center for Literacy to teach ESL (English as a second language) classes to local immigrants in West Philadelphia, many of whom are studying to become U.S. citizens. 

“Our primary task is to teach English language skills to the multi-ethnic, non-English speaking adult immigrants and thus help them integrate more comfortably and confidently into American life and work,” shares Pengfei Li PharmD’22. 

USciences’ partnership and involvement in the local community led Li to this opportunity with the IHM. Li explains that most of the center’s students come from Africa, and bring with them a rich diversity in cultures, languages, and educational backgrounds. 

Li has first hand experience with learning English as a second language when her family immigrated to the U.S. Because of this, she is able to use her own experiences to better connect with and help the students in her classes. 

“I know how difficult it could be for immigrants who are illiterate in English to read letters or manuscripts, to perform simple daily tasks that involve English instructions, or to help their kids with schoolwork,” Li shares. “I was fortunate enough to learn English at an early age and have a supportive community around me. But I shared my students’ confusion in the past, and thus I understand their struggles better.” 

 Jillian Mendez MOT’22 and an IHM StudentLi and two other USciences students, Kendra Krebs PrePro’23and Jillian Mendez MOT’22, were teaching English classes at IHM before the COVID-19 shutdowns, typically teaching or assisting in in-person classes four nights per week. Due to COVID-19 all in-person classes have been halted, and students have been able to connect with their learners virtually.

Li and Krebs began teaching ESL classes virtually in July, and the transition has been successful for all parties. 

“Instead of having a group of students in the chat, we decided to have one-on-one classes to suit each student’s unique needs. Having one-on-one- sessions personalizes the classes...and makes students and teachers get to know each other better,” Li explains. 

“I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the ingenuity and creativity of these students in helping immigrants learn English,” said Sister Kathy Benham, IHM Site Coordinator for the West Philadelphia location. “All of these students went above and beyond what I expected.”

Pengfei Li PharmD'22 with an IHM student virtuallyIn addition to community service, Li also excels academically. She was awarded the Rho Chi Achievement Award in 2020 and has been initiated into the Rho Chi Honor Society. As a student in USciences Doctor of Pharmacy program, Li knows that the skills she is learning while helping the community can directly impact her future career. Li shares how teaching ESL classes has made her a better listener and communicator, as well as helped to develop patience and understanding of other’s unique needs.

“I also observed that there is an overlap between immigrants and the medically underserved populations in the U.S. Due to cultural or linguistic barriers, immigrants tend to have limited knowledge of how the U.S. healthcare system works,” Li shares. “Both empathy and cultural awareness are essential traits for pharmacists to provide quality, patient-centered care. I’m glad to see that these two factors are incorporated in the curriculum of our pharmacy program [at USciences] as core competencies while we are preparing for our careers.”

To learn more about the IHM Center for Literacy, visit their website here. 

Categories: News, Students, Community Service