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English-language learners adapt in Helena with Shop University

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 17:50:38-05

HELENA — Those immigrating to the United States often find themselves in need of help with language barriers.

MTN News visited one school in Helena that offers that service and more.

On a wall display is a world map (pictured above) that has an image of individuals.

They are all from different places, but they all share one similarity here in Montana.

That similarity is a classroom in Helena and the individuals are adult English-language learners.

“One of my goals, when I came to Helena, was to learn English,” says Carolina Rivera, an English-language student originally from Columbia.

“Even though I had been here in the United States for close to 15 years at the time, and went to school here, I still experienced gaps in my vocabulary," says Maria Stolle, another student with Suzy.

These students go through Suzy Williams. She is the founder and head instructor for Shop University, a non-profit that helped over 100 students from 40 different countries, 20 different first languages, to learn English and adapt to life in Montana.

Williams explains the organization came to be in 2013 after wanting to help English learners reach certain goals she couldn’t do in previous teaching jobs.

"Usually, by the time they find me, they are really motivated to learn. They need English for some really important purpose in their life," says Williams.

Cenira Carvalho Swenson, a 48-year-old Brazil native, joined Shop University in 2015 with a goal of becoming a United States Citizen. In May 2020, she accomplished that goal.

“I passed and [Suzy] was the one responsible for this victory in my life. I am super glad of this because I can do everything normal. Normal life," says Swenson.

"If I could have some conversations, I was kind of thinking twice, three times what am I going to say. I was still thinking in Spanish. Now, I think in English," says Rivera. She works as a teller at a local bank.

Shop University tailors each curriculum to each student. If they wish to earn their driver’s license for example, Suzy will teach the vocabulary needed to meet each step of the process and beyond.

As tradition, Shop University records each student on their first day of class to show them how they’ve progressed over time.

Click here for the Shop University website.