By DANYEL VANREENEN
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — People of varying backgrounds, languages, cultures and ages gathered at the Adult Education Center in Charles Town. The center holds a variety of immigrant services, but the majority gathered for the citizenship class, which teaches immigrants the skills they will need to pass the test.
According to Beth Rehberger, full-time employee at the center, the program is funded by federal and state grants and is based on participation and student achievement. The program specifically caters to immigrants in Berkeley and Jefferson counties to help with basic English as a second language (ESL) skills, resume building, interview practice and enabling the participants to find jobs.
Rehberger said the facility has three consistent volunteers who work throughout the day to assist immigrants with immigration applications and citizenship test prep. There are night classes throughout the week as well.
Jane Wagner founded the ESL program about 15 years ago. She has been a constant force in the center from the beginning, according to Rehberger. Last Tuesday, Wagner led the citizenship class designed to teach students the facts they need to pass the citizenship test.
The camaraderie in the classroom was evident through student and teacher interactions. Wagner slowly explained aspects of American government that would appear on the citizenship test and joked with students to make them feel at home.
Rehberger said it’s the most rewarding job she could ever have.
“I have the chance to make whole families lives better,” Rehberger said. “That’s actually the most common reason people come to America. It’s cliche, but they just want to give their kids a better future and have better opportunities.”
According to Rehberger, the program sees students from a broad range of backgrounds and nationalities. However, the most common language is Spanish, which comes from a variety of South and Latin American countries. Rehberger said the center has recently seen a consistent African community as well.
“We’re well known among the immigrant community in the Eastern Panhandle,” Rehberger said. “We’re the living room of the immigrant population.”
Rehberger said the Eastern Panhandle has one of the largest populations of immigrants in the state. According to the U.S. Census data from 2015, 5.2 percent of the Jefferson County population and 3.5 percent of the Berkeley County population is foreign born.
Since September, Rehberger said the center has registered 110 students, with about 45 active students at the moment. Rehberger said finding a job can be a struggle for some of the immigrants, but they are hardworking, dedicated people.
“The students are amazing,” Rehberger said. “They work so hard and they are so appreciative of everything.”
According to Rehberger, one of the challenges the immigrants face in the Eastern Panhandle is that they don’t know the opportunities and resources available to them. The adult education center serves as a resource and information hub.
To continue working to serve the growing immigrant population, Rehberger hopes to see more volunteers in the future to assist with teaching and one on one job coaching.
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