Skip to main content

English lessons at library help build community

 Every Tuesday and Thursday, a handful of Collinsville community members straggle into the library and make their way to a small room in the back where Robin Rowan teaches an English class for non-English speakers.

Rowan, a Collinsville native and Auburn University graduate, spent over 30 years living in California where she fell in love, made lifelong friends, and experienced a world much larger than her small-town home. The sci-fi lover returned to Collinsville and completed a degree in Spanish from Arizona State University in May of 2022.Robin Rowan smiles behind her glasses and blue scarf

Just a few months ago, at the Collinsville Public Library where Rowan works, she was approached by the head librarian, Jennifer Wilkins, about re-starting an English program through Northeast Alabama Community College that didn’t survive COVID.

“One of the things I was hoping to do was teach English to people who were Spanish speakers and people from Hispanic cultures,” Rowan said. After Northeast described the basics of the program, she jumped in.

The program officially started on April 25 with eight students crowded around a table all hoping to better the bonds in their community and their English literacy. Rowan said she seeks to provide a space for members of her community so “that they can have the chance to become better at their target language and possibly have fewer barriers and make work easier, maybe even make work possible for some people.”

However, the new class did not come without hurdles. Rowan was faced with the challenge of learning how to be a teacher in an off-site, rural community where she had no colleagues next door to easily bounce off ideas and concerns.

Even with the resources and expertise provided by Northeast Alabama Community College, Rowan struggles with limited access to a structured curriculum that can accommodate the multi-level nature of her class. One day, with enough enrollment, she’d like to see the class expand into a larger space where people can be grouped by level and given activities that best meet their needs.

“Some people speak not a word. You have people that might not be able to read. You have people that maybe have high school education or a little bit less who have not had the depth of exposure that some other students may have had. So, it's that multi-level thing. I think that is the hardest aspect to figure out,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Rowan is excited to see where the program goes. In its early stages, she’s focused solely on continuing to get the program on its feet. In the coming months, she’s looking forward to seeing improvement in her students’ English.

“I think right now it's just about getting to know the students, finding out little things about their personal circumstances, what led them to the class, the challenges that they faced, and their individual goals,” she explained.  Getting to know them, she said, will make her a better teacher. “So, I can kind of respond better and interact with them in a way that can put them at ease. It can make them feel like hey, it's okay to stumble over words and make mistakes because that's how we learn.”

The English classes are just one step toward unifying the community linguistically and culturally. Rowan’s commitment to developing connections with the members of her community and using her skillset to help them has led to the success of the program in its early stages.

She said, “Most of the people here, especially ones that have been here awhile, have kids that go through school or go off to college, and one young lady went off to pharmacy school. So, they're not transient. They are putting down roots. They're not migrants going from job to job. They're here. They live here. I want to see people get to the point where they go ‘you know what I feel like I've gotten what I need’, and then another person could come in that maybe needs something else, and they can start the journey.”

A family of four sit at a library table for an English lesson

The English classes are taught from 5 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. For more information, contact the Collinsville Public Library at (256) 524-2323. 

Tags: Collinsville

Related Articles