Capital Area District Libraries cultivate safe learning environments

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Jacob Seiler

Capital Area District Libraries community engagement specialist Jill Abood prepares one of her citizenship group members with a list of various practice questions.

Capital Area District Libraries offers a wide variety of free public services throughout its numerous branches. Libraries are a place where many seek education and oftentimes create a sense of community in the process.

Capital Area District Libraries community engagement specialist Jill Abood has been spearheading the citizenship classes at the South Lansing branch since 2016. 

“We, as a state, have a very vibrant immigrant population,” said Abood, 50. “The goal of our program is to support people in the best way to prepare them to pass their citizenship exam.”

Ingham County, especially the greater Lansing area, has a flourishing and diverse population. According to the 2021 Ingham County Census, just under 10% of the county population were foreign born persons, and nearly 25% of individuals identify by races or ethnicities other than white.

Abood said the citizenship process in the United States is considerably harder than that of other countries. In 2022, former President Donald Trump added 28 questions to the citizenship exam, totaling to 128 questions, but President Joe Biden quickly returned it to 100 questions after he took office.

Abood said, “The testing process can be quite daunting. I usually do mock interviews and vocabulary lessons to better prepare my students for any questions they may encounter. Sometimes they can be asked questions with words they have never even heard before, so it is best to cover everything just in case.”

It is easy to imagine how confusing some of our day-to-day language may be for people that do not speak English as their first language. Public services librarian Eric Stanton said an important part of his job as an English as a second language group facilitator is to get people comfortable with everyday American slang or idioms.

“I try to set three goals for myself when it comes to facilitating these classes,” said Stanton, 56. “Get the students comfortable with speaking skills, teach them about U.S. history and culture, and socialize them with others. The last is arguably most important to me. I want my students to feel some sense of community with each other.”

Though both citizenship and English as a second language courses are informal, connections built within the walls of the library have stood the test of not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also time. Stanton and Abood said they had to adjust quickly to COVID-19 restrictions and moved classes online for quite some time. 

Stanton said, “My ESL group went online solely for a year due to COVID-19, but an interesting phenomenon happened once restrictions were lifted. Some students went back home to their countries of origin, but still attended classes online. For example, I had a student attend classes for about a year here in Okemos, and she still attends classes online all the way from South Korea.”

For more information on Capital Area District Library community events, please visit their website. The Capital Area District Libraries offer numerous services, and there is a directory that is helpful in locating resources with ease. 

Abood said, “A lot of people don’t realize that library services, such as citizenship classes, are free. Accessibility is the key to getting people where they need to be.”

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