By Tanlyn Roelofs
This 4th of July, President Obama hosted a ceremony for 25 active duty U.S. service members who had just become citizens of the United States. Serving in the military is one of the difficult ways immigrants can gain citizenship status. The brand-new Americans came from 17 different countries. At the ceremony, the President addressed the audience, full of family and friends of the service members, saying “Unless you are one of the first Americans, a native American, we are all descended from folks who came from somewhere else. The story of immigrants in America isn’t a story of them. It’s a story of us.”
This story resonated with ENGLISH @ WORK since we serve individuals who are not only motivated to gain citizenship, but to increase their quality of life in the United States. During the past year I served at ENGLISH @ WORK as a Literacy*AmeriCorps volunteer and had the opportunity to develop civics materials for our curriculum, or the Civics Project as it is known around the office. I found this to be, besides teaching and direct service, one of the highlights of the past year.
Regardless of their status, the students in my classes are incredibly interested about the rights of people living in the US and about civics in general. A lot of their interest focuses around American culture and the dates, places and things that are important to us. For example, when Thanksgiving rolled around last November my students at Maudie’s Tex-Mex asked me over and over how I celebrated the holiday, where my family all got together and what we did.
The Civics Project that I have been developing touches more on American culture than the citizenship test. The text and materials that we created, like a national holiday guide and U.S. geography basics, are meant to help anyone who is not originally from the United States to feel more at home here. The dream is to see all of our students achieve their citizenship eventually, like the 25 service men and women who were honored at the White House on the 4th. Until then, components of our curriculum, like the Civics Project, aim to make their life in the U.S. richer and more engaged.