Flint, MI–The Latinx Technology and Community Center has begun hosting a new class for those looking to improve their English skills while at the same time studying for the US Citizenship test.
A part of its larger English as a Second Language educational series, the class is a way for legal residents to get familiar with the naturalization process, which requires applicants to sit through an interview with a US Citizenship and Immigration Services Officer as well as take a speaking, reading, writing, and civics test.
“Every bimester, we hold ESL classes, and we try to focus on a specific theme or topic. This fall we are focused on preparing for the citizenship exam,” said Asa Zuccaro, executive director of the tech center.
In years prior, the tech center’s ESL offerings have had an emphasis on topics like how to request access to healthcare services in English. Though this is not the first time ESL classes have focused on the citizenship test, Zuccaro said he was glad to be able to return to the topic, which had to be changed in 2020 after he said mixed-mode classes on the subject proved to be more confusing than helpful.
If there was a time to cancel those classes, that was it, as the test underwent a brief but significant change. The Trump administration during that time developed a more challenging version of the civics portion of the test that was in place only four months before being scrapped by the Biden administration about one month after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Using study materials provided by USCIS, Zuccaro said he and his students take the time to dig deep into the systems highlighted in test questions.
“So we are able to take advantage and use some of the great information that is already available. Yesterday we talked about the judicial branch, and we really just broke down how it operates. We talked about how our government works and how it was formed,” Zuccaro said.
He added that conversations like these allow for an understanding of the US and how it operates that goes deeper than just a one-word answer to the question “Name one branch of the US government.”
“It is a reflective process when you go through the course and you talk about the eligibility of rights, who is eligible to even partake in the naturalization process,” Zuccaro said.
Discussions like these, Zuccaro said, lead to a more holistic understanding of the US government. During one class, Zuccaro said the topic of elected officials and term limits came up after one student asked how long senators were elected to office, and led to deeper discussions.
“We were looking at how much it costs to pay the salaries of senators and congresspersons, which is $174,000 per person. We talked about if we would trust someone with that much power with a salary of only $50,000,” Zuccaro said.
Ultimately, Zuccaro said the classes are designed to foster a greater conversation surrounding the topics on the test, something Zuccaro hopes will make the test easier to take when the time comes for his students.
“Obviously these are just fun conversations and just ways to engage in the classroom but the hope is always to inspire critical thought. You know, everything has its complexities,” Zuccaro said.
One of the classes’ success stories, Dinora Buesos, a Honduran immigrant who spent 10 years living in Flint before taking the test, said taking the tech center’s class made all the difference.
“Asa was really good about keeping up with me and insisting I take the test. I didn’t feel like I had the time to study for the test on my own, much less take a class, but I finally told myself I was going to do it. We went into depth about the US constitution and the current state of our government,” Buesos said.
Buesos said learning it all in English was perhaps just as beneficial for her as actually passing the test.
“We learned all of this in English and as I understood the language better, the questions started making more sense. I made a point of never missing the classes, and I liked them more and more after each visit,”
Buesos said she quickly got to a point where she felt confident enough to make a promise to herself that she would pass the test on her first try. Through in-person classes as well as private sessions where she would be quizzed, Buesos felt prepared enough to schedule her test just a few weeks after the class ended.
“Someone from the center went with me to the immigration officers. The test was really intimidating because we had to study for 100 questions but I would only be asked 20. On top of this, I had to do an in-person interview where they tested me on my ability to speak, read and write. Things went well for me though and I was able to pass,” Buesos said.
Looking back, Buesos said the class did more than help her pass the test.
She said the comradery with classmates and the deep dives into the material gave her a better understanding of the world around her and her relationship with her government.