Celebrating the Inaugural Graduation of the Fisherman’s Mark ESL Program

Claire Lynch

Fisherman’s Mark Social Services celebrated a significant milestone on May 22 with the inaugural graduation of its English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The ceremony at Town Hall in Lambertville marked the culmination of two rigorous sessions designed to empower adult learners with essential language skills.

Identifying a Need and Forming Partnerships

Fisherman’s Mark, a nonprofit known for its food pantry, early childhood learning academy, and comprehensive case management services, identified a critical need for adult English classes during focus groups with the Hispanic community in 2022. Follow-up surveys highlighted that potential students desired local, evening classes, leveled by proficiency, and supported by a structured curriculum.

“Offering adult English classes became a priority after learning directly from the community about their needs,” said Doug Shaw, a Board of Trustees member who played a pivotal role in the program’s development. “We wanted to ensure that the classes were accessible and effective.”

After exploring various avenues for ESL instruction, Fisherman’s Mark partnered with Hunterdon County’s Educational Services Commission (ESC). This partnership proved ideal as the ESC’s adult literacy program aligned perfectly with Fisherman’s Mark’s goals, offering a proven curriculum through Burlington English, experienced teachers, and fully funded classes.

Program Execution and Success

The ESL program launched with an orientation session last summer, where the program’s structure and expectations were outlined. Participants underwent assessments in August and were placed in either Basic or Intermediate classes. The classes were held twice a week from September through May, with Basic meeting at Lambertville Public School and Intermediate learners at Fisherman’s Mark’s Wilson Street office.

“Based on the testing at the end of the program, the ESC reported significant improvement by all 20 students who completed the nine-month course,” Shaw noted. “We were particularly pleased with the low attrition rate, which was below the county-wide average of 10%.”

The success of the program has secured continued funding for the 2024-2025 year, with the potential addition of a third level to accommodate varying proficiencies and interests. Orientation and assessment sessions are scheduled for July and August, with classes set to begin in September.

The Graduation Ceremony

The graduation ceremony was a heartfelt event, attended by graduates and their families, Mayor Nowick, and members of Fisherman’s Mark’s board. Following introductory remarks by Director of Operations Ricardo Zapata and Doug Shaw, several graduates shared their experiences. One Basic student, encouraged by his supervisor to improve his English, addressed the audience in English, showcasing his progress. Intermediate students expressed their gratitude for the program and its benefits.

“The students not only face food insecurity but also understand the vital role of education in transforming their lives. Fisherman’s Mark serves as the crucial link that connects these essential resources to our community,” said Ricardo Zapata, Director of Operations. “Their stories are truly inspiring.”

Teachers Will Ferry and Zoe Castro Abrica presented certificates to their respective students, celebrating their hard-earned achievements. “It has been a pleasure to partner with Fisherman’s Mark to provide English classes for the adult population in Lambertville. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve this wonderful group of adult learners!” said Castro Abrica.

“It has been a genuine privilege to work with such a dedicated, determined, kind, and enthusiastic group in my adult English class in Lambertville. Each week, my students arrived with a positive attitude and a strong desire to learn. I couldn’t be prouder of their work ethic, effort, and the remarkable progress they’ve made throughout the school year,” remarked Ferry.

A Student’s Journey

Anderlin Gonzalez, one of Castro Abrica’s students, shared his experience: “Since I started with Burlington English, I have learned a lot. It has helped me communicate with my boss, with my co-workers, and with some people around me because we have learned many words, sentences, and phrases that have helped us in our daily lives. We have also worked on our pronunciation. Finally, I want to thank Fisherman’s Mark and Hunterdon County Educational Services Commission for the support they have given us since the beginning of our classes, and thank you to teacher Zoe for teaching us in the best way.”

ESL graduates proudly display their certificates. They are joined by Doug Shaw (Board of Trustees), Ricardo Zapata (Director of Operations), Zoe Castro Abrica and William Ferry (Teachers), and Lambertville Mayor Andrew Nowick.

Looking Ahead

Many graduates plan to continue their educational journeys. Some have shown interest in local community college programs, while others are eager to participate in an upcoming computer literacy program offered by Fisherman’s Mark.

“The success of this program is a testament to the dedication of our students, teachers, and the entire Fisherman’s Mark team,” Shaw said. “We are committed to expanding our educational offerings and continuing to support our community’s needs.”

About Fisherman’s Mark

Fisherman’s Mark strengthens the community through responsive programs and services that promote stability, health, and education. For over 40 years, they have supported vulnerable populations, including seniors, individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and low-income families. Their services range from food assistance and affordable childcare to case management and outreach programs. They are the “help when help is needed.” Learn more at www.fishermansmark.org.