It’s hidden well inside the third floor of the D Building, up a creepy stairwell where there seems to be nothing at the top.
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It’s hidden well inside the third floor of the D Building, up a creepy stairwell where there seems to be nothing at the top. But upon entering the ESL Center, a completely different tone is set. A light is placed at the end of the stairs, where English learners, English speakers, students, faculty, and volunteers all work together in a room full of round tables, books, laptops, and even a movie section.

A warm smile comes from the Front Desk secretary Nikolas Sanchez-Wong, while helping a Korean native check out a few grammar books.

“Here you go, don’t forget to bring them back, OK,” he said. The student nods her head and walks out the door and down the stairs.

The place is jam-packed with people the week before finals begin. Every table is full; the tutor center in the back has a line six people long.

Wong explains the center isn’t usually this busy.

“This is the craziest, busiest week ever,” he said.

Another student comes up to the desk to check in for his ESL class lab hours. His name is Emin Yaghoubi, an Armenian born in Iran.

“I don”t really like to read, but here,” Yaghoubi opens his hands out towards the room, “I read more. The environment helps me to read more.”

Wong explained at first he didn’t even know this place existed.

“I didn’t even know these students came here,” he chuckled, and then sighed. “Some of them don’t even speak English at all, but nothing is stopping them from learning. They want to do their best.”

ESL Instructor and head of the ESL Center Melissa Michelson walks in and huffs as a small smile forms on her face, “Wow, it’s busy in here.”

Michelson was part of the team that brought the ESL Center into existence.

“We wanted to create a place where [English learners] could feel comfortable with other ESL students,” she said.

An older man sitting at a round table looks up from his grammar book and smiles at Michelson, who waves back.

“He is in one of my ESL classes. He’s a great student,” she said.

Michelson explained the Center was in the process of evaluating the progress of students in their classes who come to the Center versus those who do not.

“So far we are seeing students who come here are doing much better in their classes,” she said, while getting ready to leave for her next ESL class.

The ESL Center was given approximately $100,000 by the state as ‘use it or lose it’ money, according to Michelson.

“I wish [the state] would see that we deserve a budget,” she said. “We could do so much more here for students.”

Back at the desk, Wong is attempting something similar to sign language to ask for an identification card with a Chinese native student.

“Do you have your card,” he asks while pulling out his own ID card and pretending to swipe it at the check-in computer. The student finally understands and pulls her card out.

“It’s hard to communicate,” he chuckles. “But we try our best, just like they do.”

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