HeartShare offers English lessons to immigrants

Students say classes are boosting their confidence

December 8, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sammraa Mashrah started out as a student in the English class but made rapid progress and became an instructor. Photo courtesy of HeartShare Human Services
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In an effort to bridge the gap between immigrant parents and their children’s schools, HeartShare Human Services of New York has joined forces with the We Are New York program at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to offer an English course.

The program is part of the services offered at HeartShare’s First Step Early Childhood Center.

Many of the students attending the English classes are the mothers of children in HeartShare preschool program, but the course is also open to all community residents, according to officials.

“This class in conversational English will prepare those women to have a deeper understanding of their child’s academic progress,” said Kathy Toal, director of the Taranto Campus Early Childhood Center in Bensonhurst. The course is taught on Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Many of the students hail from a number of Arabic-speaking countries, including Yemen and Morocco.

Instructor Sammraa Mashrah is the aunt of one of the HeartShare preschool students. She started out as a student in the class seeking to support her mother’s participation in the course, but she soon found herself teaching the class. “In this class, I’m able to teach crucial conversation skills, but also the rights that these women have. If they need help, for example, they know how to reach 911 and 311,” she said.

During each class, Mashrah asks the students to introduce themselves and then dives into everyday conversation topics. The participants practice their English by translating on the spot. Instructional videos are also shown. We Are New York includes a 10-episode series produced by the mayor’s office. The series, adapted for Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Bengali speakers, also contains English vocabulary and study guide supplements.

“We are aware of how diverse our students are, so we are constantly looking for ways to reach out and build that sense of community,” said Annette Conte, a social worker at the HeartShare pre-school program who helps facilitating the course. “These women are full-time mothers who are working extremely hard to learn English for themselves and their children, but also to achieve other goals, like citizenship.  If we have at least one new parent attend, they are our ambassadors and bring their friends to the group later on.”

Students are also praising the program.

“I’ve been in the U.S. for seven years now and I took an ESL (English as a Second Language) course in college, but this class has helped me feel more confident when I speak,” said Reem Toom, the mother of a 4-year-old. “It’s so much easier to discuss my son’s health, activities and other things with his teacher.” 

HeartShare Human is a nonprofit social services agency based at 12 MetroTech Center. It offers educational programs, foster care, health care, housing and counseling for the developmentally disabled.

For more information about HeartShare, visit


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