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APU Collaborates to Promote Literacy and Health Education

by University Relations

Adult English language learners face substantial challenges when it comes to their health care. Linguistic, social, and cultural barriers impede the process, cause anxiety, and ultimately lead to substandard care. Closing the chasm between patients and the complicated field of medicine, APU’s Health Literacy Learning program offers free courses in basic English speaking, reading, and writing within the context of health education to adults with low literacy levels.

Funded by a Canyon City Foundation grant of $34,089 last fall, the program joins the efforts of volunteer students and faculty from the School of Nursing and the Department of Global Studies, Sociology, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)with APU’s Neighborhood Wellness Center (NWC) and the Azusa City Library’s literacy program to directly address these critical needs.

Low-level language skills lead to multiple barriers, including lack of information about low-cost services, inability to speak for oneself and ask important questions, fear of jeopardizing immigration status, inability to understand prescription directions, and inadequate knowledge of human physiology. “There is a strong need for English as a Second Language classes in this community,” said Cathay Reta, adult literacy coordinator at the Azusa City Library and the program’s grant writer. “The Health Literacy Learning program not only helps adults improve their English skills, but it also gives them critical information on important health issues.”

Most of the program participants in the first session possessed only a sixth-grade education. During the eight-week round of classes that meet twice weekly in different locations in the community, a rotating group of TESOL students teach English health lessons with the assistance of nursing students who present information on nutrition, exercise, blood pressure, properly communicating with doctors, and other relevant health topics. “One student told me how much he appreciated the small class size and individual attention,” said Reta. “He proudly showed me his alphabet worksheet and pronunciation work, which no one had ever taught him before.”

As the participants gain knowledge and confidence, so do the APU students who work alongside them. “This program exemplifies reciprocal learning,” said Julia Pusztai, MN, RNC, NWC director and supervisor of the nursing students involved in the program. “Our students solidify classroom learning by communicating with participants using a more simplified vocabulary, while community members improve their health literacy.”

“Sharing my knowledge and skills about the importance of health helped my communication and teaching skills,” said Kristine Hernandez ’12, a nursing student who taught in the program. “Many of the patients I will encounter as a nurse will come from different cultural backgrounds, and I can now provide culturally competent care. This program reinforced my desire to become a nurse.”

TESOL students also gain hands-on experience helping English language learners become more confident in their language skills and managing healthy lifestyles. “TESOL students need practical classroom experience in order to apply theories and grow as educators,” said Tasha Bleistein, assistant professor in the Department of Global Studies, Sociology, and TESOL and supervisor of TESOL students in the program. “Our volunteer instructors strengthen their English teaching skills while learning from the Azusa community members about their experiences and culture.”

The program runs until September 2013, with plans to sustain, grow, and become a permanent resource held at various sites throughout Azusa.

Originally published in the Spring '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).