Level one English language students celebrate at their end-of-year party in South Portland last month. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Two years ago, South Portland Adult Education offered three English as a Second Language classes and instructed about 25 students. It now has 12 ESL classes with 475 adult learners enrolled.

Six levels of ESL are offered for immigrants and asylum seekers, as opposed to two before.

“It really benefits the students because they’re able to really focus on what their needs are,” said adult ed Director Erin Krivicky, who has overseen the program’s expansion since she was hired two years ago.

The funding came from a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Education, which also paid for a new digital skills lab for the students and high school diploma equivalency program, which had eight graduates this year.

Most of the students speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, Krivicky said, and the program tries to provide teachers with some proficiency in those languages.

“We have a two-pronged approach of helping students feel comfortable, but also pushing them,” she said. The students are encouraged to speak English as much as possible.


Child care is the biggest challenge, she said. Without it, many students cannot attend the classes.

“Child care is a big barrier for folks,” she said. “We have not been able to solve that problem.”

Looking ahead, Krivicky anticipates using a $110,000 grant to launch a workforce class specifically training students to enter the hospitality industry. The class will teach English, occupational skills training and workforce readiness.

Most of Renée Therriault’s beginner-level ESL students are awaiting work permits.

“All my students are so hardworking and really want to be here and to learn and work,” she said, but balancing classes with work can be difficult.

“When students get jobs I see they’re not able to come to classes anymore or as often,” Therriault said.

Portland Adult Education, said Therriault, has a much longer waitlist, so moving can sometimes mean a disruption to their English studies.

In addition to English classes, they also offer conversation classes for students to practice what they’ve learned. The typical English language learner is in class four to six hours a week, she said, and they’re continuing to seek funding to expand those offerings.

Dias Pembele Andre is a beginner-level English learner and said that the classes and his teacher have been very good, and a great way to make friends. “Being in Maine has been good for me and my family,” he said.

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