Minneapolis Adult English learners to help Allina serve underserved populations

More than 40 adult immigrants in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Adult Education program have signed on to learn more about training so they can help Allina Health serve some patients at one of the most crucial times: death.

Allina Health Hospice & Palliative Care coordinators were onsite at MPS' Adult Education South Campus on Lake Street and Hiawatha earlier this fall, and at the program’s North Campus location as well to interview the students who have applied to become one-on-one volunteers with terminally ill patients in hospice care. The diverse group of volunteers is enrolled in one of the program's three English for Healthcare courses, which require 20 hours of healthcare-focused volunteering in the community.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Kendall Anderson is also the teacher of this adult education class. 

But the partnership between MPS and Allina goes both ways. It's helping Allina reach patients who have, in some cases, had to go unserved because no volunteers spoke their native language, according to Karen Naus, who oversees volunteer recruiting and coordination at Allina Health Hospice and Palliative Care.

“We are very excited about this partnership. There is a real need that many of our volunteers, as wonderful as they are, haven’t been able to serve,” Naus said. "We need [these students]."

Pending approval through the volunteer pre-screening process which includes an interview, a criminal background check and an immunization check for infectious diseases, the students--from Somalia, Laos, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam and Oromia--will undergo 10 hours of training. The number of students who will get through the screening process and complete the training will be lower due to a two-year residency requirement and needing high enough language skills to make it through an interview. Those making it through will then be matched with a patient who may or may not speak their native language. The highest demand for non-English-speaking volunteers is within the Hmong- and Spanish-speaking communities, Naus said.

The English for Healthcare course is a career-focused class launched in August after MPS' Adult Education program won a special state civics grant. The goal of the course is first to meet the career needs of the program's students: many have healthcare experience but need higher English language skills to get into a college-level class or to get hired by an employer. Additionally, officials in the adult education department are trying to keep their growing student population engaged and interested in coming to school. Most students attend the South Campus for four hours of English study, Monday through Friday; students at the North Campus attend either four hours in the morning or three hours in the evening, Monday through Thursday,.

“The career pathway classes we run are quite popular and can lead to additional training, education, or right to employment,” said Adult Education Program manager, Carlye Peterson. “This can be a great next step for people who are looking to invest in their future by starting down a career path. This goes beyond having a job. One in five jobs in the Minneapolis area is in the healthcare field. Healthcare has a variety of jobs that need different skills. Getting that first opportunity can open many doors for the future.”

While there have been adult ESL classes at the college prep level for healthcare (medical terminology, certified nursing assistant and/or pharmacy technician), MPS' English for Healthcare course may be the first in the state to provide healthcare-focused vocabulary, communication skills, and volunteering to intermediate-level adult ELLs.

The classes have been among the fullest in the program. Students explain why.

"It is important to help people," said Safiyo Ali, a home health assistant who has studied and practiced healthcare in her native Somalia. "I feel excited and I want to help the hospice patients."

"I want to be a hospice volunteer because I like to help patients," said Chanthalat Thao, a Hmong immigrant who has worked in home health care in Minneapolis.

The prospect of volunteering through visiting, reading or transporting/driving for a hospice patient is very exciting--and meaningful--to students such as Nay Lorbliayao. She said knowing that Allina is in need of her native Hmong language feels good--and motivating. “I love older people and I want to be supportive for them," said Nay, a massage therapist from Laos. "I think hospice volunteering will be one way I can support older people."

This is the first time the Adult Education Program has run this set of classes. A new career pathway session including a pathway for manufacturing begins in January, 2014.

To register for FREE English, reading, writing and math courses, contact the Adult Education Program at 612.668.3800 for more information. Career Pathway classes are intended for current students so register soon!

Kendall Anderson is an MPS teacher.

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