April 18, 2023

PBA Student-Led ESL Program for Elementary School Parents Nominated for Award


A PBA-led ESL program that helps parents of elementary school students create better lives for their families has been nominated for the Palm Beach County School District’s Family & Community Involvement Award.

The Belvedere Elementary School ESL program has been run by PBA students since an alumna started it in 2016. All are invited to watch the 2022 Volunteer and Business Partner Virtual Awards at 9 a.m. Friday, April 22. Watch live on palmbeachschools.org, Comcast channel 234, or AT&T U-verse channel 99.

Catherine Wiersma, a PBA alumna who worked on campus with AmeriCorps VISTA, launched the program at Belvedere Elementary, said PBA’s Workship Director Nathan Chau. AmeriCorps VISTA is a federal program that gives young people an opportunity to fight poverty by working for nonprofit organizations and public agencies.

Parents in the community were surveyed and said they wanted an ESL class so they could help their children with homework and be able to communicate with their children’s teachers, Chau said. The group of PBA student-teachers and parents meets in person every Friday morning at the school. The program has given parents the courage to apply for jobs where English is the primary language and helped them gain promotions at their current jobs, Chau said.

Since the program’s inception, students have adopted the parents’ ESL class as a Workship opportunity, Chau said. Workship is PBA’s signature community service program that responds to human needs with Christ-like action in the community and in the world. Palm Beach Atlantic students have served more than 3.7 million hours since the program began in 1968.

The program is led by PBA student Krista Entwistle, a junior studying philosophy, politics and economics. Entwistle had already completed her requisite 45 hours of community service when she came across a job posting for the leadership role on Handshake, a job search tool that connects students on college campuses with open positions.

Entwistle, who grew up in Mozambique and Kenya as the child of missionaries, was drawn to the role. She developed a love for teaching English when she lived in Mozambique and taught women who had been rescued from dangerous situations, she said.

“I love interacting with the West Palm Beach community, especially getting to talk to and learn from immigrants,” Entwistle said. “A lot of these moms have been through so much and they work so hard and their husbands work so hard. They work all night and they take care of their kids all day.”

The PBA volunteers make learning fun. They listen to music in English, play games and practice speaking. Entwistle plans lessons and coordinates with two to four other Workship volunteers to make sure they understand the lesson and what their roles are for the day. She also gives the volunteers – most of whom don’t speak Spanish – pointers on how to teach and interact with people who speak another language.

Entwistle speaks Spanish, which helps her build a rapport with her students. She sits and talks with them after class, asking them questions about moving to America, their lives here and their family dynamics. She listens as they open up to her about their hardships, she said.

The work has further developed Entwistle’s passion for working with immigrants, especially moms who have been overlooked. After she graduates, she hopes to work with immigrant mothers, she said.

“I have absolutely loved the experience of serving,” Entwistle said. “It feels like I’m able to do something bigger, working for God’s kingdom instead of for myself.”

Photo 1: Workship volunteers and staff, parents and school district staff pose for a photo at Belvedere Elementary School. The school’s ESL program for parents of elementary school students is up for for the Palm Beach County School District’s Family & Community Involvement Award.

Photo 2: PBA Workship volunteer Brianna Rivas teaches two parents in the Belvedere Elementary School ESL program.

Photo 3: PBA student Krista Entwistle, a junior studying philosophy, politics and economics, works with a mom in the Belvedere Elementary School ESL program.

Photo 4: Workship volunteers Danielle Bannister, Krista Entwistle, Brianna Rivas and Austin Hilson pose for photo at Belvedere Elementary School, where the after-school ESL program for parents is up for the Palm Beach County School District’s Family & Community Involvement Award.

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