Honors College students work with English language learners


Students in the Gleich Honors College’s Global Cornerstone Seminar have the opportunity to connect with students from the Nahed Chapman New American Academy as they learn about community service.

Webster University’s Impact Scholars Honors Program became the Gleich Honors College this year, according to Karla Armbruster, a professor of the college’s Global Cornerstone Seminar. While the names have changed, she said the focus of the course is still on learning about community service.

“What is community service? How can we do it? How can we do it well and responsibly?” Emily Thompson, a co-professor of the Global Cornerstone Seminar, said.

Going into this year, students in the Honors College course have a new opportunity for engaging in community service. They can work with high school-aged English language learners at the Nahed Chapman New American Academy (NCNAA).

Kelly Moore is the director of the NCNAA high school program, which is located in the same building as Roosevelt High School.

Moore said Webster students will be working with NCNAA students who are in their second year of the program. She said these students tend to be more confident in reading and writing than in speaking.

“I don’t know if you’ve taken a second language before, but it can be really difficult to get that confidence to say what you’re thinking in that other language,” Moore said.

According to Moore, the Zoom meetings between Webster and NCNAA students will work as “conversation practice” where the high school-aged students can also learn about college.

Currently, Thompson said eight students are interested in working with the NCNAA. She said six students are from the global cornerstone course and two students are from outside of the class.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

Armbruster said she discovered the opportunity to work with NCNAA when she was talking to her friend and director of the Student Literacy Corps, Kate Northcott. Thompson said Northcott’s words were “eloquent and compelling” and said she thought NCNAA would tie in nicely with the course’s focus on both global and local service.

“This opportunity with the [NCNAA] just seemed like such a beautiful fit because it is definitely tying into Webster’s global interests by introducing us to students and young adults who are coming as immigrants, as refugees, to St. Louis,” Thompson said. “And at the same time, this is a reality right here in St. Louis.”

Along with aligning with elements of the class, Armbruster said working with NCNAA gave students a more structured option for community service. She said last year, students had to work more independently due to COVID-19.

Armbruster said working with the NCNAA gives students a more structured and concrete plan, but said they still have the opportunity to come up with creative ways to engage in community service through NCNAA.

“They might think, ‘Oh, we could do a winter coat drive because you know a lot of these people might be from places where they don’t have winter.’ Maybe they don’t have winter coats,” Armbruster said.

On Sept. 14, students from each school were able to meet for the first time via Zoom.

Armbruster said the Webster students made a PowerPoint to go along with their introduction. She said each slide had a photo of the student, as well as some information about themselves.

“I am just so pleased at the fact that we have already done something – like the students met the other students yesterday – and that’s because last year it felt like there was a lot of wheels spinning,” Armbruster said. “I think a lot of that was because of COVID and we were much more new to the situation but I like to get things done and we did something.”

While Moore did not attend the Zoom, she said the teacher told her the NCNAA students were shy during the meeting. However, Thompson and Armbruster said Webster students noted how engaged the NCNAA students seemed.

Some students already found a common interest through their interest in soccer, according to Armbruster.

Thompson said most of the NCNAA students told their teacher they wanted to meet face-to-face.

“They want to have that interaction and that feels more real to them. So, that was great. [That was] a sign of how eager they are and how their shyness if any, is really overcome by their desire to have these screen-to-screen, if not face-to-face conversations,” Thompson said.

However, Thompson said there have been challenges in making these meetings a reality. She said many students in the Global Cornerstone Seminar have chosen to work with Bridge Builders, another service project option offered through the course.

Because of this Thompson and Armbruster said they decided to open the service project opportunity up to other students at Webster. Armbruster said students could email her at armbruka@webster.edu if they would like to become involved.

Thompson said many of the students interested in taking part in the service project have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m., which is when the NCNAA class takes place.

However, Armbruster said students would not have to be available the whole class period. She also highlighted that Webster students have become much more comfortable using Zoom during the pandemic and said they are already coming up with creative ideas for how to connect with the NCNAA students.

Both Thompson and Armbruster said they hope Webster students will be able to apply what they have learned through the community service at NCNAA to questions and ideas about community service they discuss in class.

Moving forward, Armbruster said she also hopes to offer students the opportunity to work with the NCNAA again. Moore agreed.

“Looking at it now as we’re just starting, I’m excited about it. So I’m hoping it would continue, but I think with anything you have to continually reassess and see what’s working and what’s not working. So I would predict that this would be something that we would try to keep going into the future, but we might modify it,” Moore said.

Moore said she also hopes students at Webster will realize the students they work with are very similar to them while also being respectful and welcoming in light of cultural differences.

“We spent several years in a climate that wasn’t so welcoming to immigrants, and I saw the toll that it took on some of our kids in some of our families,” Moore said. “So I really appreciate any opportunity these kids can get to work with people in the community who do want them here and do see them as valuable and want them to be welcomed.”


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Cas Waigand (she/her) is the editor-in-chief for the Journal. She is a major in journalism with minor in photography. Cas has covered COVID-19 and the 2020 general election, and enjoys writing, watching Netflix, crocheting and taking photos.