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Centennial program grows during the pandemic

Pearl Cheng


In the fall of 2020, Pearl Cheng joined Metro North ABE as the English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor at the Centennial School District ABE program. Her first task was to launch an ESL program at the new low-income housing complex in Lexington. Teaching during COVID-19 has been difficult, but Pearl and Centennial Community Education leaders have risen to the challenge.


“Our Centennial ESL program is very special,” says Pearl. While Pearl was starting her program, Metro North ABE changed how the program conducted intakes to follow COVID-19 protocols, utilizing an online intake method in place of our usual in-person intake process. “There were 27 students who have signed up for the program. 98% of them are women of color. I’m very glad that the program is growing during the pandemic.”


Pearl is a sterling addition to Metro North ABE; she brings years of teaching and volunteering experience. She earned her degree, a Master of Applied Linguistics Teaching English as a Second Language, from St. Cloud State University, and she’s a fully licensed teacher in both ESL and Chinese. “In the past seven years, I have been teaching English and Mandarin in Minnesota. . . It is a privilege to be a bilingual and bicultural person.”


With her years of teaching experience as a bicultural person, Pearl overcame the challenges of teaching during the pandemic. She has made great steps to ensure that all her students are thriving regardless of any obstacle. “In a language classroom, the most important thing is building connections. We are missing the connections that develop through casual interactions. . . .These social connections are important for student retention, academic development, and inclusion.” Pearl made it a priority to create those connections in a new way. “Students and I make recordings, send pictures, [use] emojis on WhatsApp. Students have connections in the group chat before and after class. I think to use social media purposefully creates an opportunity to connect with students and recreate some of the social connections that are lost due to online education.” Since launching classes at the Landings at Lexington, Pearl has expanded Metro North’s reach to residents of Centennial Square Manufactured Home Community to join in online classes.


Pearl’s work is just one example of the communities that Metro North ABE sites offer students. From volunteers making phone calls, lending laptops and hotspots, to creating fun games online, the teaching staff of Metro North have continued to build connections to help all students reach their full potential.


Caileena Lind, 2021
ABE Volunteer and Outreach Assistant Coordinator