Nonprofit helps English learner students achieve career goals

English learner students face language and cultural barriers that inhibit them from succeeding in the classroom, exploring career paths, applying for college and, above all, chasing their dreams,” stated Linda Reid, superintendent of the South Euclid Lyndhurst School District in Northeastern Ohio.

English learner students are often the children of immigrants. They may be immigrants or refugees themselves. Over the past 20 years, the foreign-born population of Ohio has grown by over 50%. Yet, foreign-born students often don’t find the assistance they need to learn well in their new environments. Enter the International Student Services Association (ISSA), a nonprofit founded by Haowen Ge — an immigrant himself — to help foreign-born students develop career readiness skills and plan for the future.

Increase access to high-wage, high-demand career pathways for English learner students.

In collaboration with educators, ISSA provides students with the assistance they need to accomplish their goals for life after secondary education. ISSA, based in Highland Heights, Ohio, currently assists students across 10 school districts in the greater Cleveland, Akron and Chicago areas.

Ge and his team have built strong connections with the local community to help hundreds of foreign-born students from 20+ countries, including China, Nepal, Pakistan, Mexico, Ukraine and more. ISSA works with the local school systems to provide two flexible, in-school programs that are customizable for each school and individual.

  • The Career Readiness Program prepares students for careers through workshops and lectures that teach vital 21st century skills. Students also benefit from paid internship and job-shadow opportunities with local and national employers like FedEx and Invacare.
  • The College Readiness Program focuses on helping students find the college that is right for them. The pro- gram assists them in securing acceptance to that college as well as the financial aid necessary to attend.

Develop career readiness skills.

Students experience the Career Readiness Program first, during which they learn about:

  • Technical and employability skills
  • What careers match their own interests and talents
  • Different forms of employment, such as part-time jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities
  • Various postsecondary options like college and certification programs

The students also take skill assessment exams and experience job simulations to better understand what’s required for certain careers. The workshops use a range of teaching methods — including presentations by ISSA staff and guest speakers, one-on-one meetings, virtual reality and game-based learning platforms like Kahoot! — to engage students and encourage them to apply what they have learned. They discover how to use job application sites, what jobs will provide them with useful experience for their future careers and how to conduct interviews.

All along, the program also helps students become more confident in using the English language with more proficiency. By the end of the program, all students have learned valuable professional skills.

Plan for college and the future.

Next, students advance to the College Readiness Program. This consists of several workshops that prepare them for the college application process. Students learn:

  • How to make a list of potential schools
  • Whether they will gain more from taking the SAT or ACT
  • How extracurricular activities can benefit them
  • How to proceed with the financial aid process, such as how to apply for the FAFSA as well as finding and applying for scholarships

ISSA understands that college is more than a rite of passage; it is an opportunity for students to prepare for their future careers and life. As such, the College Readiness Program helps to ensure that students receive vital opportunities in order to achieve their goals.

Look ahead.

Haowen Ge hopes to transform the nonprofit into a training center for low-income immigrant students. While attending ISSA, students would take part in career development and college prep programs. They may even earn an associate degree upon high school graduation. As such, ISSA students would find themselves in competition for high-wage, high-demand careers with an ever-growing list of industry partners like Google, Invacare and FedEx. ISSA would, in turn, provide these organizations with an extensive network of trained professionals from which to recruit their workforce.

We hope to inspire career and technical educators to recognize the needs of low-income immigrant students as they try to adjust and succeed in the United States. We seek to share the tools offered by ISSA and its partners — so that you, too, can help to spark student development and present opportunities for increasing access and equity in your own communities. By working together, we can help these students achieve their dreams. And, in so doing, nurture the leaders that they can become.

English learner students conduct career preparation activities

Michael Maynard is a senior at Ave Maria University where he studies economics and history.

Haowen Ge is originally from China and moved to Shaker Heights with his mother when he was 12 years old. He is the executive director of ISSA.

Read this article in its entirety in Techniques’ November/December 2021 print issue.