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Citizenship class gets grant

ana anthony/daily globe Volunteer tutor Jim Kuhl (right) works helps student That Zaw Htaik during a Monday morning class for beginner level students.

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington School District 518 Community Education is one of the three entities state-wide that started receiving part of a federal grant administered by the Minnesota Literacy Council (MLC) for long-term citizenship capacity building last year.

Late last year, MLC -- the only Midwest organization -- received one of the seven citizenship capacity building grants offered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

"The purpose of the grant is to help us develop the infrastructure and capacity to offer more citizenship opportunities to a larger percentage of the population living in the community," said Community Education director Jerry Fiola about the $430,000 grant that would fund citizenship services in Minneapolis, Rochester and Worthington.

Although citizenship classes have always been a component of community education, the grant has resulted in several areas of change -- one of which is community outreach.

Folks at community education have been working with "bilingual and bicultural" representatives to reach various language groups in the area.

"We want to make sure that they're fully aware of these opportunities," Fiola added.

Outreach has been successful, Fiola said, as he has been noticing a greater mix of nationalities among registered students.

Another change that came with the grant is splitting of what used to be multilevel classes to two levels -- the first focuses on improving English proficiency skills along with providing an introduction to citizenship, while the next level aims at citizenship preparatory.

"As a result of the grant we've developed a greater understanding for different curriculum approaches," Fiola said. "When this grant is no longer in place, our hope is that we can continue to offer instruction that is leveled.

Citizenship classes are now offered through a 10-week course and students are allowed to repeat the class as many times as they'd like. For beginner level students, a primary focus of the class is dictation, which helps with improving their language skills.

"I always make them aware that the test is oral so they have to be able to communicate with me," said longtime teacher Dorothy Orde.

The emphasis for both level classes, though, is the 100 civics questions -- citizenship applicants will be asked up to 10 questions by a USCIS officer during the interview, of which they must answer 6 questions correctly.

"It's good to have intense drilling with civic questions because most of them don't change," said AmeriCorps VISTA worker Justin Stevenson.

For Wegen Buna, "drilling" did the trick when he passed the naturalization test last month. Buna was enrolled in citizenship class for about four months before he was interviewed.

"I was relaxed at the test because when you know everything, you're not scared," he said.

The Minnesota Literary Council's emphasis on the use of volunteers has translated into a need for volunteer tutors to help with citizenship classes in Worthington.

Stevenson will be working to "recruit, train and assign" volunteer tutors who would be willing to assist immigrants obtain their citizenship.

The role of a volunteer is to provide personalized attention to students when class is in session.

"We'll review the lesson and reinforce past lessons so that it's a cumulative learning experience," said volunteer Jim Kuhl, who has been assigned the beginners. "It makes them more comfortable so that when the interview comes, they're not afraid."

Recently naturalized American citizen, Buna, is now a volunteer as well.

"This people give me help (so) now I want to help others," he said.

The next 10-week session is scheduled for Oct. 3 to Dec. 22. Registration will be conducted the week of Sept. 26. For further information, please call 376-6105.