Intern-driven discussion groups boost English language learning at nonprofit

July 13, 2021

Two students from Western’s School of Social Work have leveraged their learning in the classroom to create engaging discussion groups for adult English as a second language learners through internships at the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC). 

Yesenia Vazguez-Camey and Pamela Aguilar lead the discussion groups where they provide English language learners a safe space for self-expression and connection while practicing their conversation skills. Vazguez-Camey also helps conduct evaluations for new and existing learners.

“Working at the KLC has definitely enhanced my people and communications skills,” says Vazguez-Camey, a senior from Battle Creek. “In the classroom, you can learn and read about the profession, but it’s not until you actually start doing the work firsthand that you will learn something about social work.” 

Aquilar appreciates that the KLC staff and internship encourage her to think from the social worker’s perspective and give her the chance to gain leadership skills. Additionally, Aquilar and Vazguez-Camey have laid the foundation for future interns to lead the discussion groups by developing and documenting the process. These experiences helped Aquilar land a full-time position in June with Family and Children Services in Bilingual and Residential Youth Direct Care—six months before her planned graduation in December 2021. 

“The KLC is not your normal social work internship, working with clients and families,” says Aguilar, a senior from Kalamazoo. “It’s an internship that helps you grow by letting you take the lead on what you want to change. My KLC mentors have taught me that promoting empowerment within our learners helps bring an exponential growth to their learning. These are things that I cannot learn in a classroom.” 

Michael Evans, KLC executive director, says these pre-professionals bring a high level of energy, curiosity and passion to KLC programming, which is designed to empower adults and their families to reach their full potential. The council has employed 74 WMU interns since the organization was founded in 1974. 

“Pamela and Yesenia’s dynamic discussion groups have increased the confidence, independence and satisfaction of our English language learners,” says Evans. “We appreciate the ongoing collaboration we have with WMU to bring expertise such as this from the University to our organization to help us make a greater positive impact in our community.”