Students help immigrants in citizenship quest
November 13, 2008 -- For the 10th year, San Francisco State students are helping older immigrants in their quest to become U.S. citizens. The path to citizenship can be a daunting one for elderly immigrants as they prepare for interviews, a civics exam and English language tests.
Thirty students are volunteering in community-based English and citizenship classes this semester as part of Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders). Their support will be especially useful this fall as citizenship applicants now face a new civics test introduced Oct. 1.
Working under the supervision of class teachers, students conduct mock citizenship interviews, help immigrants learn material and improve their English skills for the citizenship test. In the process, the students gain real-world teaching experience and course credit.
"I learn the theory of teaching in my master's studies, but being a SHINE coach is a chance to observe a real classroom and apply what I have been learning," said HyunJin Cho, who is studying for a master's in English with a concentration in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Now in her third semester as a SHINE coach, Cho volunteers once a week at an English class at City College's downtown campus in San Francisco.
"Most of the students are immigrants from Asia," Cho said. "The classes are quite large, about 40 to 50 people, so I help students who want to ask extra questions and those who need individual attention with their grammar and writing skills."
Part of a national community service learning initiative, SHINE was established in response to the needs of elder immigrants after the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which jeopardized access to benefits for non-citizens. "The goal was to bring together young and old people in positive ways, always based around English language tutoring as the vehicle," said Gail Weinstein, professor of English and director of SHINE. In recent years the San Francisco SHINE program has expanded its focus to include other age groups besides elders and is working with community partners to meet other needs beyond citizenship preparation such as basic language skills, health and family literacy.
The San Francisco SHINE program, a partnership between SF State and City College of San Francisco, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Last academic year, 300 students from SF State and City College assisted more than 6,000 older immigrants in the Bay Area.
"We have had Raza Studies students working in the Mission district, students of Chinese language helping in classes in Chinatown and political science majors having a chance to observe how the citizenship process works," Weinstein said. "We have some coaches who love it so much they keep coming back to SHINE semester after semester."
Community service learning opportunities such as SHINE are central to the student learning experience at SF State. In the 2007-08 academic year, 10,000 students took part in community service learning through 507 different courses.
For more information about Project SHINE, visit: http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~shinesf/
-- Elaine Bible
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