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MIT Sloan students teach ESL to Institute service workers

MIT custodian Tsering Mulug-Labrang can now assist her two young sons with their homework, thanks in part to an Institute program where faculty, staff, students, and others at MIT volunteer their time to tutor service employees.

Mulug-Labrang, whose first language is Tibetan, struggled with English until she took advantage of the free English as a Second Language Program for MIT Service Employees. The program, which started as a pilot in 2009 with just 13 enrolled, provides service employees in the MIT Department of Facilities, including groundskeepers and custodians, with two hours of time off from their shifts each week to practice reading and writing skills. The program’s tutors are all volunteers affiliated with MIT, including several MIT Sloan students.

“Because many of the service employees work second- and third-shifts, students can play a valuable role, as their schedules allow them to meet their students at 11 p.m.,” said Nancy Kelly, the program’s coordinator.

The program, which is a part of MIT’s Human Resources department, has 22 employees enrolled this semester and nearly 70 tutoring volunteers, half of whom are students. Last semester, seven of the students were from MIT Sloan, which, “I find to be amazing, given the rigors of the programs at Sloan,” Kelly said. “Without them, we would not be able to offer tutoring to the night shift employees.” Each tutoring session lasts for an hour, and students are typically not assigned homework.

Ana Garcia, LGO ’16, who grew up bilingual in Guatemala, tutors a student at 11 p.m. on Tuesdays. She said she likes knowing she’s helping adult immigrants, because education is such an important asset.

Her student is originally from Belarus, and works a custodial night shift at one of MIT’s day care centers, which is a job that does not offer much human interaction.

“I think I’ve made a difference in her life by providing her with a warm and patient human connection,” Garcia said.

Aditi Sarangi, MBA ’16, started volunteering for the program last fall, and is now a substitute tutor, filling in for those who can’t make it in a given week. She credited the program with helping her become a more patient and effective communicator.

Sarangi fits the tutoring in around her coursework. “It’s not a huge time commitment. It’s a couple of hours at the most … and my students are smart and thoughtful. It’s been a pleasure getting to know them better,” she said.

One of Sarangi’s students recently told her that her writing lessons were extremely useful, and he just enrolled in a vocational training course on top of his full-time job.

Mulug-Labrang is on track to receive her high school diploma and she credited the ESL program. “This has helped a lot … especially the writing. We write a lot, and it helps that we always talk with our tutor in English,” she said.

For more information, or to volunteer time, contact Nancy Kelly.

For more info Zach Church Editorial & Digital Media Director (617) 324-0804