Opening doors to educational opportunity is what community colleges are all about, and it's become a part of the culture at Westchester County Community College over the years.
"Community is our middle name," said David Bernstein, the assistant dean of the English as a Second Language (ESL) at WCC, quoting a phrase he said is common on the campus.
In keeping with that theme, the college began offering ESL classes free of charge in surrounding communities almost 10 years ago. The original programs, held in White Plains and New Rochelle, have grown to a total of nearly 350 students. After the success of those programs the department has decided to expand to more communities, West Harrison being one of them.
West Harrison's ESL classes are held in a newly remodeled room in the West Harrison Library on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The classes are organized by Bernstein and ESL Library Program Director Claudia Carco and are taught by the same professors who work at the college's main campus in Valhalla.
The classes in West Harrison teach basic English free of charge (the book costs only $27, but is not included) and offer students basic social skills in English. Since the classes are affordable and close to home, Bernstein said they provide a practical first step for people in the community struggling with English.
"There are many, many, people who don't take English classes because of their work schedules and other factors, but they pretty much, to a person, all want to," Bernstein said. "They all want to speak English well."
Harrison's Library Director Galina Chernykh contacted the Westchester County Library when she heard about the program and was excited to bring the program to Harrison. It's a new service for the library, and Carco said it also helps familiarize the students with the library and what it has to offer.
In turn, the program helps the students get a start on achieving their educational goals, whether they are just hoping to interact with neighbors in English or hope to one day take classes at WCCC.
"Our classes are focused more on social skills at the library," said Carco. "At work, at the doctor, more social things."
The library classes take between a year and 18 months to complete, and offer a significant start to the English language for beginners, free of charge.
"It's a substantial start for anybody that needs to learn English," said Bernstein.
The first classes in the West Harrison Library run from Jan. 24 to May 3. There are already more than a dozen students in the first class, and Bernstein said more classes could be added in the future depending on interest.