The SEED offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to adults in Austin, emphasizing participation and community building. Learners are engaged community members and participants in their own educational experience. They give input on various aspects of the classes, including what they want to learn, what type of outreach or fundraising they want to do, and how much time they want to spend on a given task.
Beginnings of The SEED
The SEED Adult & Family Learning Community began with an idea of how to best serve adult English Language Learners (ELLs) in meeting their language goals and becoming more involved in their own communities. Founder and Executive Director, Cameron Allen, noticed a gap in the way schools taught language and literacy to adults. He created The SEED with the philosophy of respecting the learners’ identities and decentralizing the role of the teacher.
Allen began teaching at American Youthworks School in Austin and met like-minded people. After several philosophical conversations, he realized he wanted to expand options for adult ELLs. He saw a need to minimize the role of teacher as the be-all, end-all in classes and involve the learners in the decision-making process. To that end, he moved away and earned a master’s degree in Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.
Afterwards he returned to Austin to open The SEED in 2014 as a society of learners and teachers. Home base is the Dove Springs neighborhood of South Austin. The team worked to create a community garden in the area and began fundraising through grassroots efforts, such as selling homemade chicharrones plates. In early 2016, The SEED was granted official 501(c)(3) status.
Classes and Community
Many of the learners in the group have been living in the U.S.A. for years, some for decades. They sought out The SEED for a multitude of reasons. The organization’s philosophy includes finding out why participants want to increase their English language skills, instead of assuming.
Using a democratic process, The SEED learners and teachers hold meaningful discussions with an eye on improving their communities. The learners may want to connect better with children or grandchildren, increase involvement in neighborhood or school groups, gain a sense of safety in their communities, or improve job prospects. Just as every learner is different, so is each person’s reason to study English at a given point in life.
The SEED’s stated mission is: “At the SEED Adult and Family Learning Community, we define and redefine our communities, our realities, and ourselves by creating and sharing knowledge in language and literacy classes and through community engagement.” The main offices and daily classes are housed in a temporary building at Houston Elementary School. The classes are part of a pending contract with AISD for Adult ESL Education. Several of the students at The SEED have children in AISD schools.
Apart from the daily ESL classes, The SEED has an Early Childhood Program started and run by volunteers. These coordinators are Allen’s former students, Rocío Valderrábano and Lupita Gonzalez. The Early Childhood Program serves the children of the adult class members. Valderrábano and Gonzalez saw a need and approached Allen with their idea for the program, a good example of the community advocacy The SEED aspires to promote.
The SEED has recently started a program at the Goodwill Excel Center. The Excel Center is a free public high school that offers adults from the ages of 17-50 a chance to earn a high school diploma or get professional certification. The SEED’s role there is to provide ESL classes to help the students reach their personal, language-oriented goals. These goals may include improving their fluency or moving into the high school diploma or professional certification courses at the Excel Center. However, the foremost goal at this time for these learners, some of whom are refugees, is to make them feel welcome and empowered.
The SEED offers these classes at different times of the day to offer flexibility for the learners. Group size currently varies from 3-22 learners per group, depending on enrollment at the Excel Center and students’ language needs. The program currently employs Americorps teachers. Allen trains and prepares them to meet the participants’ unique needs in a forum where the learners and teachers work together to share ideas and grow personally.
Walking the Walk
In addition to The SEED’s classes and community, Allen is presenting at the TexTESOL State Conference and serves as the Sociopolitical/Advocacy Chair of the Region III TexTESOL Board. He recently presented at the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Central Texas ESL teachers and learners. The SEED continues to work with participants to help transform their communities—and their roles in those communities.
To learn more, visit theseedaustin.org.
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