An Interview with YWCA Princeton ESL Instructor Brandy Frank

Categories: Blog

Meet Brandy

Brandy has been an instructor with our English as a Second Language program for almost fifteen years. Prior to joining the YW, she was involved with Literacy New Jersey as a tutor and tutor trainer in Mercer County.  In 2004, she co-founded a free adult ESL program serving the Princeton area called “Voyage ESL.” The Voyage program continued for fifteen years up until the start of the pandemic. In the interview below, Brandy reflects on how and why she became involved in our program, and the impact of learning ESL.

What inspired you to teach English as a Second Language?
Actually, there are several things that influenced me to teach ESL. First of all, my maternal French- speaking grandmother, who had arrived in the United States from Canada as a young woman, was not able to speak English, although many people had tried to teach her. It was my dad, after he married my mother, who took time and patience to succeed in teaching my Memere English. Secondly, I felt called to teach myself. I hold a bachelor’s degree in art education and my master’s degree in counseling and student personnel. That, and the involvement with tutoring and the Voyage program lead me to the YWCA Princeton. And, for that, I am very grateful.

Brandy (pictured in the top right corner) with two students in a virtual ESL class.

What courses have you taught, and do you have a favorite?
I have taught all levels of our core curriculum, as well as many reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, and conversation classes. The latter is probably my favorite, although teaching any of our ESL classes is so rewarding since it allows our students to flourish. The appeal of the conversation classes is that students find their voices and begin to communicate spontaneously in English to their classmates, to me, and to others outside the classroom. It’s a time of excitement, breakthroughs, and personal empowerment. I also really enjoy teaching offsite at  companies and community centers, as well.

How have you seen students benefit from our program?
I have seen our students benefit in many ways. They become citizens, get driver’s and other specialty licenses, get first and subsequent jobs, train for specific jobs and certifications, get  promotions, go on to college and graduate school, just to name a few. Sometimes our students achieve their goals  while attending classes and sometimes it happens later. We usually establish close bonds with our students so that they often remain in contact with us even after they return home to their countries or move to different states. By keeping in touch, we  learn of their further achievements.

Is there anything about our ESL program that you find unique?
Yes. First, I have always been impressed by our small classes, both in person and remotely. It benefits our students enormously when they receive special attention from their teachers in such small groups. Second, some of our new software is state of the art and a pleasure to teach. I can see that our students are very pleased with both the in class lessons and the at home student assignments. Lastly, I think that there is a genuine warmth in our program which keeps our students returning to us year after year. They see and feel how we value, respect, and support them, especially in these very stressful times.

How has our program adapted to virtual ESL classes? Have you noticed any pros and cons?
In my opinion, the ESL program has adapted to moving to total online classes very quickly and efficiently. Zoom classes were immediately established along with staff training. New software and student accounts were acquired along with teacher training and certifications. And, tech support was put in place right away.

A pro for our new virtual learning is that students can be at home and relaxed after a long day of work or parenting to attend their classes. Another pro is that the new software is very user-friendly and interactive, allowing the students through the remote control feature to be even more in charge of their learning. And, a con would be that, as with all online interactions, there will always be certain unavoidable glitches that will occur no matter how proficient a person is with technology. So, it seems to be necessary now to be a skilled Zoom host, an eager learner of new software, and a determined solver of all things technological. And, I must say that I really do find going virtual with our classes to be an exciting challenge.