Once again, we join in celebrating International Down Syndrome Day. We want to highlight our unique language learning program English for Us, and the great work our special students do in class.
One more year, we want to join the celebration of International Down Syndrome Day. We want to thank all of our DS students for everything they share with us, for what they teach us, and for the inspiration we receive from them every week in our English for Us language classes. Four years ago, we had the opportunity to start an English learning program for people with intellectual disabilities, and no one could have anticipated that we would go this far. This challenge, which we anticipated as a complex initiative, turned out to be an incredible journey of discovery, more accessible than we ever imagined. English for Us is currently part of our regular academic offerings sharing the same academic quality and international experience as any of our other courses. Not only that, inclusion is now of the key commitments of our programs, and all of them offer some inclusive activities.
On this particular day, we want to dedicate this blog to English for Us and, with it, recognize all the students, families, universities, and institutions that have supported us in the development and growth of this program. After four years of working and refinement, we see how this initial pilot is becoming a solid, inclusive, and sustainable initiative that not only brings us fun solutions for teaching English to these special students but also motivates them to learn while opening new educational and professional opportunities and helps them become citizens of the world.
All through these years, we have achieved the goals we had set; we continue to teach synchronous classes online, we offer face-to-face classes that have proven to be a success, we increased the number of students (now we have almost 80), and the number of classes, expanded the age range of participants (from 8 to 40) and diversified the levels of English we teach. We have also extended the program to many cities across Spain: Santander, A Coruña, Lorca, Murcia, Valencia, Córdoba, Jaén, and Canary Islands, among others, join Madrid in this initiative. We are excited to lay the foundations for our English learning community throughout Spain.
As we got ready to make a big leap, we knew that adjusting our organization and improving coordination and communication with all the participating agents, including students, associations, teachers in the United States, and our local team, would be necessary. Luckily, our partnerships are committed, communication is very fluid, and we learn faster and adapt with greater agility every time. The main protagonists of the English for Us program are our students, and they are the ones who have made this project come to life. They are the ones who constantly demonstrate their ability to learn English and the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with it. The diversity of students allowed us to learn about language learning and the implications regarding students´ age, school experience, learning pace, and willingness to learn. It also allowed us to confirm the adaptability of our English teaching methodology, demonstrating that it is adaptive, inclusive, and flexible.
None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary collaboration of our international partners, especially the work done by the students from the Speech Pathology Department, School of Education of Pennwest University in Pennsylvania, and Dr. Mary Patt McCarthy, Director of Clinical Education from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, with whom we work every day. Our American teachers are what our students like the most, not only because they teach them and have fun practicing the language, but because they are their authentic liaisons and international ambassadors that teach them about life in a different country, a different culture, their climate, food, or special holidays—a daily contact with other countries that they had never experienced.
At Pennwest University, the program has also had a positive impact, leading to a significant increase in graduate students participating in classes with Spanish students. We started our online classes with two grad students in 2020, and now we have more than 20 on the team. For our US students/teachers, this is also an opportunity for growth and professional development since they work directly with international students every week. This experience offers a unique opportunity to develop their international and intercultural skills from home.
Last October, we had the opportunity to travel to Pennwest and meet all participants in person. We had been working together since the pandemic but have never met. It was a great trip! Our US students made a video presentation of the school that we later shared with our students in class, and we started planning for the first immersion program that will take place next December 2023. As part of the activities, we will offer a three-day Christmas Camp in Madrid, where our students will meet our teachers in person, practice their English and have a complete program of activities and games. We will share updates and information as time comes closer!
To finish this piece, we must recognize our collaborating partners in Spain, among which we want to highlight Prodis Foundation and COCEMFE. Both of them enthusiastically supported this initiative from the beginning without hesitation. It is also important to mention the schools, high schools, and associations that opened their doors to us.
Last, the most fantastic recognition goes to all the students who have been in our classes and studied with us. Thank you all, because together, we are making the learning of English accessible to people with different needs. English for us seeks to support inclusion, equality, and inspiration. It also aims to provide new educational and professional opportunities for these unique students by opening the world to them.
We leave you now with a video of our students so they can share why they like to learn and practice English.
Congratulations to all, and thank everyone for being part of this project!