Volunteer with a Passion for Teaching: Amy Rae Foss

When Amy Rae Foss first visited the International Book Club at International House, she had no idea how that decision would impact her life … or how she would ultimately impact the lives of so many immigrants and refugees working to make a better life for themselves in Charlotte.

Amy Rae Foss

Amy Rae Foss Volunteer Citizenship Instructor

Originally from Minnesota, Amy Rae ended up in North Carolina after a three year stint as a Middle School English/Language Arts teacher in Arkansas. She works now for a healthcare software company and travels extensively to train medical personnel.  Despite her hectic travel schedule, she always makes time to get back to Charlotte for her work as a Volunteer Instructor for Sunday afternoon Citizenship Classes. “I am actually rarely in Charlotte”, Amy explains. “There are times when I schedule my travel plans to get back to Charlotte just in time for Citizenship training, and then leave town again right after class.”

Why would Amy Rae make such a sacrifice in her travel plans? That’s easy for her to answer. “Education is something that I strongly value and I feel passionately that everyone – including people of all backgrounds – should have access to educational opportunities. Which is what I love about International House – it brings people together from all over our community and the world. ”

Citizenship Class with AmyAs much as her busy schedule requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice to prepare for her classes, Amy feels like she gets as much, if not more, in return from her students. “For me, the most rewarding thing about teaching is seeing the light bulb go off for someone – to see their excitement when they remember something and can apply it. At International House, this goes a step further when our Citizenship students actually become naturalized citizens and call or email me to let me know that they have passed! I love being a part of helping them accomplish it and celebrate all their hard work and success!”

Amy Rae also feels passionately that her students contribute significantly to the success of the greater Charlotte community. “Our students are from such diverse backgrounds and all their cultures, languages, traditions, etc. are beautiful. They add so much dimension and diversity to the Charlotte community.”

She also reminds us out that immigrants who ultimately achieve citizenship are able to contribute even more to their community. “Studies in Charlotte have shown”, Amy explains, “that adults who become naturalized citizens are better able to support their families financially and that their kids do better in school. I think that is such an important thing to remember. At International House, we help get them there.”

Issues concerning immigration in the United States often become highly charged political debates filled with numbers and statistics. In her position as a volunteer at International House, however, Amy Rae has the chance to see behind those numbers – to see the human face of hopes, dreams, struggles, fears, and the drive to preserve and protect family. “Some border towns have banned families from adopting/fostering kids from Central America. For many Americans, those are the only faces they see when they hear the word “immigrant”. People forget all the nations that immigrants come from, the struggles they have faced to get here, the hard work that they do, their kindness, and their compassion for people. It all comes down to stories. If people were to take a minute to talk to and listen, actually listen, to someone not born in the U.S. they would come to understand the person behind the title.”

In the end, Amy Rae is like most staff Amy Rae Foss in Classand volunteers at International House: she receives as much, if not more, than she gives. “There are so many students and classes that I’ve worked with who have created special memories and hold a special place in my heart. They are the most encouraging and grateful people that I encounter in any given week. ”

And would she recommend that others consider volunteering at International House? “Of course people should volunteer at International House! Where and when else can you meet people from such diverse backgrounds and learn from them? In our multicultural world, having the skills to interact with people from all over are increasingly important. It’s just such a rewarding and fulfilling experience.”

International House is fortunate to have hundreds of volunteers like Amy Rae – all doing their part to create a better life for our newest neighbors, our community, and ultimately – themselves. Thanks, Amy Rae!


Summer Youth Tutoring Program Off to a Great Start!

YETP-Teacher-and-StudentOur Youth English Tutoring Program (YETP) is off to an exciting start!

On June 23rd, we kicked off our fifth summer of YETP.  For the next 6 weeks, our teams of tutors and teachers will be working at four local schools to improve the English fluency and literacy of about 250 children from non-English speaking families. This summer, YETP is taking place at Merry Oaks, Pinewood, Montclaire,  and Nations Ford Elementary Schools.  Each of these schools serves many students who come from high poverty backgrounds where English is not spoken at home.

YETP is a free program that has demonstrated remarkable success in avoiding the “summer slide” where foreign-born children often lose up to 3 months of reading growth while not at school. Our results last summer showed that 95% of our YETP students maintained or improved their literacy levels. YETP forms a crucial bridge to prepare students for the upcoming school year.

Monique Howell, YETP Coordinator for IH, is very pleased with the start of the program.  “Our 60 YETP staff members all share a passion to see these students grow and learn this summer. It is so inspiring to go into schools and see children smiling, laughing, and learning so early into the program. I am certain this summer is going to be a great one for YETP!”

Many thanks to our generous sponsors who have made this program possible:  Belk Foundation, Piedmont Natural Gas, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Duke Energy, and SPX!


Cross-Cultural Cooperation in the Classroom

ventures 1 daytime class

When you walk into an Adult ESL class at International House, you might see people from seven or eight different countries and linguistic backgrounds, all learning together!  Our Adult ESL program attracts participants from around the globe, coming together to master English and to become more familiar with life in the Queen City.  The tangible objective of these ESL classes is to develop students’ verbal and written proficiency in English.  However, the less tangible result of these classes is the benefit that the students receive as their time together allows them to build a close-knit community.

Adult ESL students at International House meet together for a total of four hours per week from September to December, working together with an instructor.  These hours spent together build up, developing relationships that can last even after the course has finished.  Although the students come from different linguistic backgrounds, they all live the language of compassion—a language that does not always require words.

Kristen Schmitt, instructor for the daytime ESL course, shared that her favorite part of working with the class been witnessing this compassion and connection in action.  She loves the way that “the more advanced students are very willing to help the students who are struggling…even though most of the students do not speak the same language, they still enjoy working together!”

The students in our Adult ESL courses are building connections and friendships that will carry on outside the classroom, helping make Charlotte’s international community that much more vibrant and that much more connected.

YETP 2013

By: Denise Long, Executive Director


Walk the hallways of Merry Oaks Elementary School and listen. Children’s voices rise and fall as they play vocabulary bingo or a game about verbs. Laughter punctuates the lessons. There is the scramble of feet as one of the lead teachers in a nearby classroom announces a snack break. Music filters from another classroom where children dance the “Hokey Pokey” and learn the correct English names for various body parts. Then, take a drive over to Pinewood or Montclaire Elementary School and hear the same sounds repeated. I guarantee you will leave with a lighter step and a smile on your lips!

This is the fourth year that International House has offered a summer Youth English Tutoring Program (YETP) to children in Charlotte who struggle to keep pace with their peers due to limited English proficiency. Many children in the CMS school system lose language proficiency over the summer while staying at home in a non-English speaking household. In Mecklenburg County, 13.5% of the County’s residents are foreign-born, and enrollment of language-minority students in the CMS system is at an all time high. CMS does not currently offer ESL summer programs for elementary school children, although there are programs at the middle and high school levels.

International House’s Youth English Tutoring Program (YETP) helps fill the gap by providing free English tutoring during the summer break for low-income immigrant children who do not speak English at home. YETP has blossomed through the years. Our initial pilot program was offered during the summer of 2010 and assisted 36 children with English language skills in a 3 week program. In 2011, International House began a partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools  to better identify students most in need of English tutoring and to offer the program on-site at a local elementary school. There were 106 participants in two three-week sessions.  Last year (2012), the CMS partnership was further expanded to include two schools, 145 students, and more instruction hours (six week instead of three week sessions).

Our current program is now taking place at 3 elementary schools with over 200 children enjoying a fun-filled summer of learning  The YETP model matches a trained tutor with small groups of children for a 6 week half-day program. Each of the participating schools also has site coordinators and lead teachers  who supervise the tutors  and assist with student recruitment, placement and testing. The site coordinators and lead teachers are familiar with the children at each school and can offer individualized attention to a child’s particular learning needs.

The results are impressive.  Test scores show that children do not lose English fluency over the summer but rather increase an average of 15 to 25%.  And, perhaps just as importantly, the children receive the encouragement and support of adult teachers and mentors who believe in them and encourage them to succeed.

International House is extremely grateful for the support of the funders who have made YETP possible: the Belk Foundation, PNC Bank Foundation, and the Duke Energy Foundation.  Kudos should also go to Education Director, Gail Johnson, whose passion, enthusiasm, and community connections have played a large part in YETP’s ongoing success.

For many children in Charlotte, the chance to attend a fun and educational summer camp is a distant dream due to cost and transportation barriers. YETP is a dream come true for over 200 children are learning to love English, as well as their new home in America.

April Fool: Myths About Immigrants

{Photo Source}

By: Denise Long, Executive Director

“Immigrants don’t want to assimilate and learn English.”

There are a lot of myths floating around out there about immigrants who come to Charlotte and other cities across the U.S.  This is one of them. Unfortunately, repetition of misinformation can often fuel the fires of anti-immigrant sentiment and even racism. It is  important that organizations like International House and others serving Charlotte’s immigrant communities lift up our voices to offer facts that counteract some of these stereotypes and misconceptions.

How often have you heard a comment like this?  “Immigrants aren’t interested in fitting into our society. They don’t want to learn English or become Americans. My grandparents were immigrants, and they had to work hard to learn English and to assimilate. Today’s immigrants should do the same.”  Well, the reality is that most immigrants today ARE working hard to learn English and adapt to their new country. Within 10 years of their arrival, over 75% of immigrants speak English well. However, many work two or more jobs, have few financial resources or need child care in order to take an ESL class. English language programs in the United States are insufficient to meet the demand. It is estimated that more than 90,000 immigrants across the nation are on waiting lists to learn English.

Here at International House, we can testify to the desire of Charlotte’s immigrant community to learn English. Stop by one of our weekly ESL classes. You will see an array of eager students from countries around the world hard at work to learn a language they know they must master in order to succeed.  There is a local baker from Honduras, a former engineer from Iran, a night-shift worker from Laos, a young widow from Mexico, a newcomer from Haiti, a grandmother from Peru, and refugees from Vietnam, Somalia, and Bhutan.

International House’s educational programs are highly regarded and sought out by many immigrants who don’t want a hand out, but simply a “hand up”, i.e. the tools they know they need in order to better integrate into their community. Our ESL classes, one-on-one tutoring program, citizenship classes, and basic life skills workshops are all filled by some of Charlotte’s newest residents who are seeking the American Dream, just like the rest of us. They want to become U.S. citizens in spite of difficult requirements and long delays.

The percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born today is about 12%. In the early 20th century, it was about 15%. Immigrants who arrived here 100 years ago faced similar types of discrimination and suspicion as those coming here today, but history shows that they successfully assimilated into our culture and country. Today’s newcomers are adjusting and blending into U.S. society at the same rate as previous generations of immigrants. Let’s give them a chance and salute them for their hard work to learn English and provide for their families. We are glad they are here!