Nestled between the residence halls of Cutter and Smith, many students pass by English Language Services Cleveland (ELS Cleveland) without so much as a second thought. While some might be curious as to what the building is, it remains an isolated aspect of campus.
ELS Cleveland is a school for students from around the world who want to learn the English language in order to better immerse themselves in American culture.
Leanna Ross has been the Center Director for ELS Cleveland for the last six months, having first joined the program as an academic director two and a half years ago.
Despite the program being 59 years old, Ross felt as though they are not recognized well enough.
“When I got into this position, I was like, ‘I’ve been here for so long and no one knows who we are,’” Ross said. “This is something I want to change.”
The biggest challenge these students face, however, is not difficult grammar or spelling, but rather the fact that they are extremely isolated from the rest of Cleveland.
“We have a very distant relationship with a lot of the places on campus,” explained Ross. “So I’ve been trying to get the students to go and tour places like the Tinkham Veale University Center, and [to] go use the gym more … They can start building awareness about what skills they still lack so that they know what to work on while they’re still with us before they matriculate.”
Currently, there are 97 students enrolled in the program, with that number generally hovering between 85 and 105 depending on the time of year. They have students from all over the world, with most students coming from China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Kuwait and Brazil.
Despite being located on the Case Western Reserve University campus, ELS Cleveland follows their own academic schedule. Since it is an intensive English program, the school offers several levels for students of varying skills, beginning at 101—a beginner level—to 112—mastery level. Every four weeks, students have an opportunity to either test up to the next level or repeat their current level.
“I really want our students to learn English. That’s number one. But a close number two is getting them to feel like they belong here for whatever amount of time it is, even if they’re only here for a month on vacation. I want them to feel welcomed, and I want them to make friends and make really great memories of Cleveland when they leave,” said Ross.
One way students work to feel at home in Cleveland is through the homestay program. Families in the Cleveland area are paid to open their homes to a student for a four-week minimum. Rather than that student staying with other students in the program from their home country, they continue to practice their English even after the school day ends. In recent years, however, the number of families participating in the homestay program has declined.
Most students come to ELS Cleveland with a plan to attend CWRU, OSU or other Ohio universities as undergraduates. One big draw of this program is the close proximity to the CWRU School of Law.
“We try and get the students to be as active in the community as possible, so we often have activities … We want them to have a rounded experience and to meet with and talk to the locals as much as possible, which isn’t always easy these days,” explained Ross.
Since CWRU students especially are located so close to the program, there are many opportunities for them to get involved.
Occurring every Tuesday is their Conversation Cafe program. Running from 12:20 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., volunteers come in and just talk with the students during their lunch, practicing conversational English in addition to building connections and acceptance. On a less regular basis, the program also hosts Story Circles, where groups comprised of students at the school and Cleveland residents or college students are given a topic and create a story that relates to it. Again, while this is an opportunity for ELS Cleveland students to better English speaking skills, it is also a learning opportunity for those who aren’t in the ELS program to hear a different perspective from their own.
“So it seems like there’s some kind of gap between what we do and getting that information to the public that I’m trying to figure out,” said Ross. “So I really want my students to make friends that are Americans, just so that they get that cultural exchange and that sense of feeling a part of Cleveland and not just an outsider.”
If any students or families are interested in getting involved with ELS Cleveland, their contact information is available on their website.