Schools & Education

Gavilan ESL program opens new opportunities for students

With nine locations in San Benito County, Gavilan's noncredit ESL program brings new skills and improved employment opportunities for county residents

Tucked in community-based locations throughout San Benito County and college district, adult students learn writing and computer literacy while enrolled in English as a second language (ESL) classes offered by Gavilan College.

The college offers the noncredit ESL classes in reading and writing, life skills, citizenship, and computer literacy. Classes are held at area schools, the San Benito County Library, San Juan Social Services and San Benito County First 5 as well as at the college site. Classes even meet at the county jail. Some offer on-site child care to the ESL students, in partnership with First Five of San Benito County, making it possible for them to attend class.

Making it personal

Through conversation, humor and engagement, ESL instructor Martín Rodríguez-Juárez helps students learn by creating a comfort zone. In the bi-weekly life skills class of 20 at the Briggs Building instructional site in Hollister, he teaches students who immigrated from Mexico, Central America and Columbia.

"As the students engage with one another," he said, "they form new connections and discover interesting, sometimes surprising links," he said. A coworker's family may come from a nearby town, or a new acquaintance belongs to a similar church or community group. Building language and networking skills creates new connections.

Martin Rodriguez' Lifeskills class

ESL instructor Martín Rodríguez-Juárez (center) instructs students in the life skills
class about the next interactive engagement, learning the names and hometowns of three people, then introducing them to the entire group.


Arriving on the Central Coast with distinct dialects in their native languages, some of these students are learning Spanish as their second language and English as their third language, especially the older adults. Many did not finish high school, but they are motivated to learn new skills to find work.

Succeeding in a digital world

Today's online world offers opportunities for everyday digital transactions such as driver license renewal. But without computer skills, Rodríguez's ESL students could spend two or three hours in line at the DMV to transact the same business. In the Friday evening computer literacy class, students learn the basics of managing computers and content: turning the equipment on and off, using a mouse, opening a program, selecting photos, navigating the basic programs and engaging on social media. Since most students have digital phones, he uses an app called Remind to communicate information and stay in touch.

The computer literacy class also helps the ESL students explore different job posting websites. Students discover and apply for employment opportunities they would not have discovered through their social networks.

In the ESL reading and writing class at the Gilroy campus, students navigate the written language. "Because many Latinos from these countries do not finish school, especially girls," Rodríguez said, "students learn to read and write in this class."

Rodríguez, who has been teaching at Gavilan since 2011, forms lasting bonds with his students. One teenage couple asked his advice about getting married, and he recommended waiting a few months, seeing if they were prepared to settle down and to start a family. They did marry a few years later and invited him to their wedding. Other students share their life stories and special food from their hometowns.

Gavilan College offers courses in both credit and noncredit ESL from beginning to advanced levels. Funding for adult education and English language learners is supported in part through California AB 104, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in June 2015.

For class listings, locations, and registration information, go to

Gavilan College

Gavilan College offers a wide range of services, including programs of community education, the liberal arts and sciences, the pre-professional, business, vocational, and technical fields. To support student success, we offer services that strengthen and augment the learning environment. Courses and programs of study are offered days, evenings, weekends, and online. All offerings are designed to assist students in meeting their educational and life goals.