CASP develops language-learning program for asylum seekers

BRATTLEBORO — Federal regulations have doubled the wait time for work permit eligibility, so the Community Asylum Seekers Project has designed a language-learning plan that takes advantage of that wait to better prepare asylum seekers to find work and keep it.

As it welcomes more participants into its program, CASP is facing the dilemma of how to integrate them into life in Windham County, including finding meaningful work that can be performed successfully by someone with limited English-language skills.

Seven asylum seekers in this area have been gainfully employed, yet a few have lost job opportunities because of barriers to the full understanding of directions.

Adaptable for all levels, from beginner to advanced, the language program focuses on language learning plus vocational and cultural skills.

Its nine units cover everyday life, from learning about the community, home life, safety, health and wellness, the natural world and work to money and banking. There is also the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to individual needs.

Each unit suggests experiences, activities, and excursions to enhance the learning and get the students out into their new world.

While the program was designed for use locally, CASP has licensed it for non-commercial use and plans to publish it online for use by teachers of any language, locally and nationally.

“It is arranged by units, so it is highly flexible,” said John Bohannon, creator of the vocational segment of the plan.

The language segment was devised by Nancy Lindberg, a teacher of English at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, in collaboration with Jennifer Borch, the education program coordinator at USCRI.

Project task co-directors are Dorothy Leech and Francie Marbury, CASP board members.

The curriculum was reviewed by representatives of local businesses and organizations, including Paul Millman, former CEO of Chroma Technologies; Alex Beck, Welcoming Communities manager of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation; and several instructors connected with the School for International Training.

During preparation of the curriculum, funded by a $14,000 grant from the Clowes Foundation of Indianapolis, planners interacted with personnel from 15 local businesses.

Now that the pandemic is winding down and in-person learning can resume, CASP will apply for a grant to hire a teacher and find an appropriate classroom space. In the meantime, it is seeking possibilities for field testing the curriculum, contributions to the plan, and feedback.

CASP, founded in 2016, provides material and moral support to those seeking asylum from violence and poverty in their home countries by finding host families for them, helping with food and other daily needs, assisting them in navigating the asylum claim process, and helping them achieve eventual independence as they proceed through the process.

The nonprofit is supporting 14 individuals in Windham County. Kate Paarlberg is executive director.

Further information can be found at, on Facebook, or by contacting CASP at P.O. Box 1355, Brattleboro, VT 05302 or 802-579-1509.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates