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ICYMI: Ready to Work students receive real-world civics education at Seattle City Council

Glenn Davis, Ready to Work Program and Policy Specialist, Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

Ready to Work students meeting with councilmembers.

On May 22, 2019, over 60 immigrant and refugee English language learning job seekers and their teachers crowded into Seattle City Council Chambers for a lesson in civic engagement. The attendees were students in the Ready to Work (RTW) program, an innovative program combining an English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum with computer literacy instruction, culturally competent case management, job skills training, and even job placement.

In what has become an annual tradition, the RTW students visited City Hall to provide testimony to and observe the deliberations of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans & Education (GESCNA-Ed) Committee led by Councilmember Lorena González. The visitors shared their personal and collective experience as RTW participants, voicing how – with the support of the RTW program – they are gradually, but persistently overcoming step-by-step barriers on their journey to English proficiency, economic stability, better quality jobs and full integration into the civic and cultural life of Seattle.  

RTW is a partnership between the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) and three community-based organizations across Seattle (Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), Neighborhood House, and Literacy Source). The program meets year-round in 11-week terms, four days a week, three hours a day, for a total of 12 hours per week. RTW classes and are offered in South Seattle at ACRS and the Rainer Beach Library, in Lake City at the Literacy Source Learning Center, and in West Seattle at the Neighborhood House High Point Center.  

The program started four years ago after several community organizations came together with three city agencies – the Human Services Department (HSD), Office of Economic Development (OED), and OIRA – to address the learning and employment needs of beginning English learners. As a result, the City of Seattle created, invested in, and continues to support this program funding 80 classroom slots each quarter with related services.

While learning English takes a long time to achieve, with programs like Ready to Work, beginning English language learners are succeeding and are advancing to higher levels of English skills, obtaining jobs, and developing long term goals for themselves and their families. This program is one example of how OIRA helps to accelerate the pace of immigrant integration in our city.

In addition to RTW, OIRA works with networks of community organizations, educational and training institutions, and labor unions as well as other government agencies to develop immigrant-friendly policies and programs that promote mobility and economic stability. Our purpose is to dismantle the many institutional, cultural, and racial barriers that block immigrant workers and professionals from securing stable, quality jobs commensurate with their skills and education – to “even the playing field” and to share equitably in the American Dream.

Learn more about the nationally recognized Ready to Work program here.