YPSILANTI – Food traditions vary differently around the world, but the act of coming together in fellowship spans centuries. To help support English language development among women and children with refugee status in Washtenaw County, Eastern Michigan University held a cooking demonstration tailored to meal planning and preparation.

About 10 Afghan women, 15 Afghan children, one Syrian woman and one Egyptian woman attended the literacy-enhanced cooking class held in partnership with Jewish Family Services (JFS), a local non-profit organization whose goal is to help to the refugee resettlement process, with EMU’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages ​​(TESOL) program of the Department of World Languages, supported and funded [email protected] and its Learning Office by the university service, dedicated to the integration of the community into education.

According to Zuzana Tomas, an EMU and TESOL teacher of English as a second language, the objective of the program was twofold. “Afghan children worked on developing literacy skills in preparation for the new school year while their mothers and other women engaged in improving their English by talking about food and planning a meal they taught to those who attended the cooking demonstration event,” Tomas said.

Tomas said the students were eager to learn English while demonstrating their understanding of other languages. The participating women discovered new relationships and a new interest in higher education.

“A woman who has already started taking classes at Washtenaw Community College shared that she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in sociology since it’s a degree she earned in Afghanistan,” Tomas said. “Another woman told me that she managed to get her first job in a restaurant, but her real dream is to become a nurse. She was very excited when I shared that EMU had a great nursing program.

Additionally, Tomas’ students, most of whom are practicing K-12 teachers, have found the experience rewarding. In addition to their collaboration in developing impactful lessons for participants, the class gave them many ideas for culturally and language-appropriate practices that they can extend to their students.

Tomas recognizes the hard work that goes into community outreach and knows firsthand that it takes a village. Tomas is grateful for dedicated volunteers like Stacia Proefrock, an EMU TESOL graduate student who works for JFS, and Rita Simpson-Vlach, a JFS teacher coordinator, who helped recruit students and arrange transportation. She is also grateful to EMU faculty member Decky Alexander and the staff of the Engage office for partnering in launching this academic engagement initiative.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves over 15,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, honors, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In total, over 300 majors, minors, and concentrations are offered by the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Company; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Social Services; and its doctoral school. National publications regularly recognize UEM for its excellence, diversity and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU today.