Merced College is always seeking new ways to better serve the community.

Whether it’s changing up curriculum to meet the needs of today’s evolving professional fields or simply reaching populations that might be underserved in our area, the College wants to give everyone within the community their best opportunity to succeed.

That philosophy made our partnership with the Farmworker Institute of Education & Leadership Development an easy decision.

FIELD has teamed up with nine community colleges throughout the state, focusing on traditional farming communities to offer educational opportunities for non-native English speakers and their families. Founded in 1978 by César E. Chávez, FIELD’s mission according to its website is to promote economic and social prosperity for Latinos and other low-wage, low-skilled individuals and their families, thereby helping them realize their inherent worth and strengthening their communities.

According to Merced College Vice President of Instruction Brian Ellison, the College and FIELD began putting a program together in 2017. A little less than a year later, noncredit English as a Second Language classes have debuted in the Planada, Livingston, Atwater and Merced areas for the Spring 2018 semester.

“FIELD is an organization that’s worked with community colleges up and down the Central Valley,” Ellison said. “(FIELD President/CEO) David (Villarino-Gonzalez) reached out to us and we began discussions about partnering up in 2017. The bottom line is FIELD has the ability to help reach parts of our service area we’ve never been able to reach.

“Historically, people won’t travel for ESL classes. FIELD helps us bring the classes directly to those communities and so far people are taking advantage. It’s our first semester doing it, so we still don’t have all the numbers yet, but I know that the Planada classes are running at or near capacity.”

According to the FIELD website, recent immigrant farmworkers have a sixth-grade education on average and illiteracy rates as high as 21 percent. The class curriculum is intended to help participants improve their basic reading, writing, listening and verbal skills. Sharpening these skills makes them more desirable to employers and creates the potential to dramatically improve their quality of life.

“Agriculture employers have conveyed their satisfaction with their work force being able to take more responsibility, because now they can communicate,” Villarino-Gonzalez said. “That ability to communicate can now give the farm workforce the ability to problem solve and their employers appreciate that.

“The preponderance of the Ag community in Merced means that there’s a large number of recent immigrants that are working in the area. The other reason that Merced College was a good fit for our program was their priority to service their whole area. We met with the College and were very impressed by the leadership, organization and their desire to quickly get the program up and running.”     

Villarino-Gonzalez said the original plan was to start small, with six courses in two communities. Demand for the classes changed those plans, however. With 400 students signing up in just the first semester, the College opened it up to 12 courses spread over Merced, Planada, Livingston and Atwater.

According to Ellison, the College is currently offering four levels of ESL classes that students can progress through. The classes are free and open to any non-native English speaker. For more information on our noncredit offerings visit www.mccd.edu/offices/noncredit/schedule.html or call (209) 381-6540.