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UR’s Warner School awarded grant to develop English language program for low-income immigrants

The University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and Human Development was awarded a grant that will develop a flexible English language program to prepare low-income immigrants and refugees for employment and career advancement in the Western New York region. With this grant, the Warner School will continue to work to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable New Yorkers and eliminate their language and cultural barriers to employment and career advancement.

The grant—totaling $140,000—has been awarded by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. It will build on the lessons learned from a successful pilot program led by the Warner School’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program and World Language Program, in partnership with the Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services, that taught English to 16 Afghan refugees at Vigneri Chocolates and Adrian Jules in Rochester in 2022. The newly funded English language program will incorporate onsite English learning at participants’ workplaces and online tutoring and consist of culturally sustaining, trauma-informed instruction, among other new aspects.


Hairong Shang-Butler, an associate professor who directs Warner’s international TESOL program, will lead the program under a new project called “Employment and Career Advancement Equity: A Highly Flexible English Language Program for Immigrants and Refugees.” Warner School TESOL and World Language faculty and graduate students will play an instrumental role in the program by serving as instructors, teaching assistants, online tutors, curriculum developers, and lesson planners.

English language is a key driver of refugee and immigrant integration and can be the gatekeeper to education, employment, health, and social connections, according to Shang-Butler. This new English program will create the opportunity for refugees and immigrants to thrive in the workforce.

“We recognize workforce development as a social determinant of health for this growing population in New York,” she says. “Many refugee and immigrant adults face employment barriers that can make it more difficult to secure and hold decent-paying jobs. With this generous foundation support, we will continue to improve their English language skills, eliminate cultural barriers to employment and career advancement, help guide them toward more employment and career advancement opportunities, and play a key role in what could ultimately help improve the health and well-being of vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The grant will fund the project for the 2023 calendar year and will assist over 70 immigrant and refugee adults (age 18-50) in Monroe, Genesee, and Ontario Counties by December 2023. The new funding will support the Warner School in creating a highly flexible, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed 20-week TESOL program that supports immigrants and refugees who have the greatest need to improve their English language skills in the following ways: 

  • Supporting three cohorts of adult students who take English classes onsite at their workplace three hours a week.
  • Providing them with online English tutoring twice a week using Chromebooks provided through the program.
  • Creating a Handbook of Teaching Workforce English to New Americans for new instructors and volunteers to use in the future.
  • Holding individual meetings with cultural ambassadors and teachers to set goals, share concerns, and receive feedback.

Shang-Buter adds of the program, “Our goal is to create successful program interventions that lead to increased confidence with English-language skills, improved social and career-related interactions, and improved job prospects. In turn, all of this should result in improved social, emotional, and physical health.”

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers, bolster the health outcomes of diverse communities, eliminate barriers to care, and bridge gaps in health services. Named after a tireless advocate for immigrants, children, and the poor, the foundation funds programs and initiatives across New York State that either provide direct healthcare services or address the social determinants of health. 

The Warner school’s graduate programs in TESOL prepare students to teach in various non-traditional school settings, such as schools abroad, community colleges, community organizations, museums, and afterschool and summer programs, where New York State certification is not required to teach. Learn more about the school’s graduate programs in TESOL.



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