Western’s Intensive English Program Provides Skills for Success

Story by Mark Kienzle

Blanca Granados de Cruz says the most difficult challenge she faces today is learning English grammar. Remarkably, this comes from a woman who was confronted with some far more serious challenges in her homeland of El Salvador, where grammar was the least of her worries.

Blanca and her husband, Enio, made a life-changing decision – as challenging as it was courageous – 13 years ago to escape and immigrate to the United States.

Along with their two young sons, Nelson and Alex, the couple found their way to the San Francisco Bay Area, a place they called home for the first few months of their passage. During that time, a fellow Salvadoran and family friend living in Blaine convinced them to move north and plant the roots of their new life in the U.S. near him in Northwest Washington. They did and haven’t looked back.

A skilled elementary school teacher by trade, Blanca wanted to find her way back into the profession in Bellingham, where the family, which now includes a daughter, Fatima, calls home. It’s also where she currently attends the Intensive English Program (IEP) at Western Washington University.

“I first went to community college to take the class English as a Second Language (ESL),” she said, adding “I found the class very helpful, but I knew I had to learn more.”

With the goal of teaching again, Blanca understood the need to become far more familiar with English than she was, so she sought to take the next step and visited Western’s website, where she found what she needed.

The Intensive English Program, a branch of Outreach and Continuing Education’s Language and Culture Programs, offered a pathway to study English for business, as well as preparation for degree study at Western. To accommodate an engaged learning atmosphere for students, class sizes are small and provide a highly immersive American language and cultural experience.

It was exactly what Blanca was looking for and needed to move ahead. Working to attain Level 5 certification, she attends school four-to-five hours a day, five days a week, and will achieve her certification in a few short weeks.

“The program has made a positive impact on my life,” says Blanca. “It has improved my English language skills and will allow me to someday get a teaching job.”

IEP Director of Studies, Paul Mart, offered insight about Blanca’s quest to fulfill her dream of getting a teaching position. “Blanca and I have learned a lot about the Washington Educator Skills Test—Basic exam, the WEST-B,” Mart said. “Since October 2018, we have been working on reading and writing exercises to build her confidence and pass the exam. I’m impressed with Blanca’s resolve to achieve her goal.”

The two have spent time on the telephone with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to clarify the steps that Blanca will take in the upcoming months.

Once those steps have been completed, Blanca’s progression through IEP will come to fruition and her hope of one day again teaching elementary school children closer to reality.

“I think this program is building a good understanding for me of English and gives me great opportunity in my life. I will first be a teaching assistant and then would like to get a teacher’s job.”

This summer, Blanca takes the next big step in mastering English, volunteering to read aloud from M Readers – in English, of course – to students of all nationalities attending the program. The M Readers allow students and teachers to better understand what they read and what they have learned, essentially helping to track a student’s progress.

Every Sunday at her church, Blanca practices her teaching skills, providing Spanish lessons to English speakers. “I get practice teaching and I get confidence from the program,” she said. “The program is very special to me.”

For more information about Western’s Intensive English Program, visit ee.wwu.edu/intensive-english-program

Thursday, June 27, 2019 - 10:38am