Education for Akron’s Bhutanese Refugees Part 3


Story by Tom Crain

Education beyond K-12

Educational requirements for Summit County refugees 18 years and older are serviced through Project Learn, an organization spearheading the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction. Project Learn is part of Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) through the state of Ohio and is funded by the Ohio Board of Regents. It also receives support from United Way of Summit County, GAR and Akron Community Foundation.

Project Learn partners with local refugee resettlement organizations, including International Institute of Akron (IIA), Asian Services in Action (ASIA) and World Relief, to administer classes.  There are 64 different countries represented in Project Learn’s ESOL program, with over 40 languages spoken. At any one time, there are 20 classes held at various sites throughout the county, with a current enrollment of 550 students, many of whom are refugees.

Rebecca Jenkins


No time is wasted by Project Learn in providing assessments to newly-arrived refugees to shore up their abilities to speak English. First, an initial intake assessment is given  “We ask them basic questions and listen for intelligible answers,” explains Rebecca Jenkins, Project Learn ESL Coordinator.  “Then, they are tested for their writing abilities.”

The refugees are separated into various proficiency groups depending upon their English speaking and writing abilities. After every 60 hours of class training, students are re-assessed via post-testing. The majority of refugees tested in English proficiency levels will fall between 0 and 2 on a literacy scale of 0-10. If students test out above Level 6 for English listening and speaking abilities, they then can enroll in GED ESL classes to prepare for high school graduation.

Ladiesclassroomphoto by the International Institute of Akron


The older a refugee is, the more likely their English is diminished.  “We find that many Nepali seniors 50 years of age and older, especially women, are for all practical purposes illiterate in both their own native language as well as English, most often scratching out their names with an “X,’” says Jenkins. “These women did not have access to formal education in Bhutan, their country of birth, or in Nepal, the country to which they fled to escape persecution.”

All classes are free, regardless of age, and offered at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels, emphasizing fluency and accuracy in spoken and written English and stressing authentic communication. Project Learn prefers English immersion in its ESOL classrooms. That is why interpreters are generally not used.

smallclassroomiiaphoto by the International Institute of Akron


In addition to teaching English, curriculum also focuses on essential life skills for thriving in the U.S. including job skills, financial fitness and healthcare. For instance, students learn about making appointments, where to find hospitals, how to see what their insurance covers, how to take buses to different clinics and about buying generic vs. prescription drugs.

“Our classes are designed for refugees and immigrants to not only improve their English language skills, but also to more easily obtain citizenship status, become more engaged parents, more involved community members and more productive employees and advance in our higher learning institutions,” says Jenkins.

One major barrier to education facing Akron refugees is access to transportation, and for those that do have their own cars, the cost of parking at downtown classrooms and gas at outlying classrooms is prohibitive. “If students are within walking distance of their classrooms, it’s more likely they will attend and finish their classes,” says Jenkins.



Of the twenty class offerings, about half are held at the IIA so that refugees in Akron’s North Hill international district can walk to their class. In addition, Project Learn offers GED preparation classes for English Language Learners at the North Hill Branch Library. Currently, three of the Project Learn ESOL classes can be found at the main library downtown on South Main St., but will soon be relocating to a section of Summit County Office building at 175 South Main Street.



Most adult refugees plug into low skilled jobs in such companies as Rubbermaid, GOJO and Case Farms poultry processing. Others work in healthcare jobs such as nurses’ aides. To assist in workforce advancement, Project Learn offers contextualized English language instruction to students seeking employment in the healthcare field with its ESOL Healthcare Pathways course. Refugee students also benefit from a career guidance advisor and specialized job skills language classes.

Fortunately for Subba’s Bhutanese community, most overwhelmingly recognize that a good education is important in achieving the American dream.

For more information go to:  Project Learn


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s