COD Prepares Non-Native English Speakers for Educational and Career Success

ela adult program

By Angela Mennecke

Alla Seafi moved to the United States from Turkey in search of a better life for herself and her family. After settling into her new home in Wheaton, she knew she needed to learn English in order to find work. She began taking beginner English classes at World Relief, a College of DuPage partner organization, and now she is enrolled in COD’s Adult English Language Acquisition (ELA) program to further her language skills and prepare for her citizenship interview and test.

“I want to learn as much English as I can to get a good job,” she said. “I know it will take me a long time, but I am learning a lot and my teacher at the College helps me to understand. In Iraq and then in Turkey, I didn’t get very much education. Here, I can do much more.”

Designed to help ease the challenges of non-native English speakers like Seafi, the College’s free ELA program helps students improve their English language skills in the areas of conversation, listening, reading, speaking and writing for the purpose of community participation, daily life management, employment or to further educational opportunities.

ELA Instructional Program Manager Susan Blatt says students in the program are an extremely driven group.  

“Many students have degrees from their home countries but need their language skills further developed. Students see the real purpose of the program and they are committed to finishing as fast as they can so they can move into a career,” she said. “Students without a degree are equally as motivated because they want to continue their education and this program offers them a great first step.”

Currently, there are more than 2,500 students enrolled in the ELA program with continued growth due to increased partnerships between COD and service organizations in DuPage County. ELA program partners include World Relief, the People’s Resource Center and The Salvation Army, in addition to several junior high and high schools across the county.

Once a student reaches proficiency, student success coaches work to develop a transition plan, connecting students to scholarships, degree programs, career exploration and opportunities for professional development and career advancement.

“We have a lot of students who have gone through both the ELA  and High School Equivalency programs,” Blatt said. “Some are now finishing their associate’s degree and moving on to other degree programs here or at four-year colleges. You see this progression of both native speakers and non-native speakers that continue to use COD as a stepping stone.”

Another transition for ELA students is the College’s ICAPS program, which pairs English language classes and college courses that lead to an industry-recognized credential. COD’s current programs are in the IT and manufacturing areas. At the end of the year-long program, students earn college credit, industry-recognized certificates and are on a path to a fulfilling career.

COD Systems Coordinator and Community Partner Liaison for the ELA program Ashley McLaughlin emphasized the array of options available to program completers, including the opportunity to apply for a Jump Start Scholarship.

“We don’t just send them on their way, “ McLaughlin said. “COD offers students plenty of other things to do, including a scholarship that provides a student who completed the ELA program $500 to use towards the beginning of their studies at COD.”

ELA graduate Chanbopha Loera from Cambodia took advantage of the Jump Start Scholarship to enroll in an accounting class at COD.

“I have opened more doors in my new country than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “Learning English brought me new opportunities for my career, for my future and for my family. I feel comfortable and confident to speak with people. I can do things that I didn’t feel confident doing before.”

Featured at 31 locations throughout DuPage County, the ELA program is free and open to residents and citizens age 17 or older.

In addition to the ELA program, the College offers a Citizenship program designed to help eligible adults prepare for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) citizenship interview and test. Participants study and review test questions, learn about the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship, develop test-taking strategies and learn techniques to manage the interview.

For information on COD’s Adult ELA and Citizenship programs, please contact the College’s Adult Education and ELA Office at (630) 942-3697 or email

Photo Caption: Students listen to their instructor in an ICAPS program class. The ICAPS program at COD is a transition option for ELA students. The program pairs English language classes and college courses that lead to an industry-recognized credential. COD’s current programs are in the IT and manufacturing areas.