CLARKSTON—Congressman Hank Johnson met Wednesday with Georgia State University President M. Brian Blake and members of the Clarkston community to celebrate the expansion of an English language instruction program that lays the foundation for access to post-secondary education, career success and improved health and well-being.
Georgia State’s Community Based English Program provides instruction that helps refugees, immigrants and migrants strengthen the language skills that are essential for economic mobility and adjustment to their new communities. The program, which is taught by faculty in Georgia State’s Intensive English Program, will reach 400 additional students over the next several years.
“At Georgia State University, our priority is student success and eliminating achievement gaps based on a person’s background or income,” said President M. Brian Blake. “I’m incredibly proud of how GSU’s Intensive English Program has impacted hundreds of lives by providing language education to some of the newest members of our community.”
Clarkston has one of the fastest growing foreign-born populations in the southeast and is one of the largest refugee resettlement communities in the nation. GSU’s engagement with the Clarkston community includes its Prevention Research Center, which is funded by a $3.75 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since its establishment in 2019, the PRC has helped increase vaccination rates, implement evidence-based parenting programs, and develop and deploy culturally and linguistically competent health interventions and communication.
Mary Helen O’Connor, Associate Professor of English and Deputy Director of the Prevention Research Center, noted that for new arrivals to the U.S., learning to speak, write and read English fluently is the key determinant of overall health, well-being, educational attainment, employment and social mobility—for themselves and for their children.
“We know from the research, but more importantly we have heard from our community, that quality English language instruction is not affordable, accessible or readily available to the majority of our residents who need it,” O’Connor said. “This program will provide the language proficiency required for new arrivals to more quickly become self-sufficient.”
Georgia has welcomed thousands of Afghan refugees since August 2021, many of whom have professional degrees in law, medicine, nursing and engineering but lack the English skills they need to thrive. O’Connor noted that the expansion of the Community Based English Program will open doors of opportunity for individuals while also helping the state meet its critical workforce needs.
The Prevention Research Center is led by the School of Public Health and works with faculty and staff across the university as well as with community partners, residents, government agencies, schools and local government to identify and address the needs of the community.
“The work of Georgia State’s Prevention Research Center demonstrates how stakeholders can come together and change lives for the better,” said School of Public Health Dean Rodney Lyn. “We continue to search for ways to deepen our partnerships with Clarkston and with communities across Georgia to promote health and well-being.”
Story by Sam Fahmy, photos by Carolyn Richardson
Mary Helen O’Connor
Associate Professor of English and Deputy Director of the Prevention Research Center
Mary Helen O’Connor oversees community engagement as a member of the Georgia State University Prevention Research Center team and is the director for the Center for Community Engagement at Perimeter College. Her teaching and research in the field of migration studies, education, and rhetoric and composition explores refugee education, agency, and identity. For more than a decade, Dr. O’Connor has been a volunteer and advocate for refugees and immigrants in Clarkston, GA, one of the largest resettlement communities in the U.S. She presents and lectures extensively on migrant students, refugee and immigrant issues, and community advocacy.
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