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Free Adult ESL Conversation Classes at Campbell Library Booked to Capacity

ESL students and hopefuls flock to instructor Beth Reis' teaching style and inviting demeanor.

(Editor's Note: Stephanie Corona is a San Jose State Journalism student who wrote this piece for Patch as part of a class assignment.)

On Wednesday mornings, a group of eager adults carrying backpacks and coffee mugs congregate outside the Campbell Library. They are a full 30 minutes early for Beth Reis’s ESL conversation class.

The class is funded by Friends of the Campbell Library, an organization that allocates funds from monthly book sales to free public programs. Friends of the Campbell Library partners with CACE (Campbell Adult Community Education) to create this weekly morning class held in the library’s community room.

CACE provides Ms. Reis, an instructor with 30 years of ESL teaching experience, who describes her job as “a pure pleasure” and certainly exudes the sentiment. She is aided by Mike O’Leary, a volunteer learning facilitator who teaches free, public ESL classes in San Jose.

Ms. Reis has a warm and inviting demeanor that breaks down conversational barriers. Although the class is composed of students from more than 10 different countries and of various skill levels, students feel comfortable participating out loud.

They clap for each when they do well and correct each other without judgment, making it no wonder why Ms. Reis’s class is booked to capacity. Word of mouth is a big contributor to the class’s popularity.

“I promote this class to other people,” says two-year student Zulema Fornes Chaves.

Ms. Reis prefers to speak only English to her students, despite her multilingualism, to promote thinking in English, an important step in improving conversational skills.

“I do everything to make meaning for them,” she says. 

An important part of this “everything” is her willingness to adapt. She assesses the ever-changing skill level of the class and adjusts her curriculum accordingly. 

The class began with 45 registered students and a hefty wait list. The open-door policy allows sporadic attendance but after crowding, Ms. Reis was asked to reduce her class’s occupancy. She accommodates as many students possible and has managed to narrow the class down to the returning dedicated students.

“The people who are here want to be here,” Luis Fernando Leon, a first-year student contributes on the subject.

Today, the waitlist is down to five hopefuls who will be filtered in as current students filter out.

Both Luis and Zulema have taken ESL classes elsewhere and agree that they would pay to take Ms. Reis’s class.

Although the class is currently at capacity, “the opportunity is here for anyone who wants to use it,” Luis says.

Ms. Reis is currently open for additions to her waitlist.

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