Last edited on Jul-21-10 at 06:17 AM (UTC3 Assyria)
Accounting instructor Alison Molotsky (center) works with Svetlana Tutova (left) and Klevis Sata at the Zarem/Golde ORT Technical Institute in Skokie. (Brian O'Mahoney/Staff Photographer)
Vocational school prepares students for jobs by Mike Isaacs (misaacs < a t> pioneerlocal.com) - Skokie Review. July 19, 2010
The small industrial corridor on Skokie's Fargo Avenue doesn't immediately come to mind when you think of the ideal home for a school that is changing people's lives.
But tucked away on this short block just off of the Edens Expressway -- the home to small factories and manufacturing businesses -- is Zarem Golde ORT Technical Institute. Newly arrived immigrants have been attending the small school for years to gain better English skills, to train in a practical and worthwhile vocation and to land a sustainable job.
Perhaps the ORT institute was better known when located on the busier Touhy Avenue in Chicago and passersby had regular opportunity to get a glimpse. Not as many people know the school is even here since its move to ethnically diverse Skokie about five years ago, officials say.
ORT recently purchased a van and is now able to pick up and drop off students, a need that came about because of its off-the-beaten-track location. Public transportation was more readily available when the school was located at Touhy near Kedzie Avenue for its first 10 years.
"Here, there is no traffic, no people to be able to see the school like there was on Touhy," said ORT Institute Director Marina Chudnovsky. "You have to know about it before you can come."
Fortunately, many people do know about it -- at least 450 who are now enrolled at the school. Chudnovsky said that there is room for about 50 more students, and the school would like to attract more people born in the United States as well.
"We don't want to be a school that just serves immigrants," echoed Lisa Burnstein, assistant director of ORT. "I think for our survival, we need to be able to work with more than just the immigrant population."
Since students don't enter vocational programs until they are competent in English, mixing students from other countries with U.S.-born citizens will not be difficult, officials say.
Chudnovsky, who has been director for only about a year, immediately made her impact at ORT. She quickly hired more Assyrian staff members to accommodate a growing number of students from Iraq, Iran, Syria and other such countries.
"When Marina came in, she saw that we have a growing Assyrian population but that we didn't have any Assyrian staff," Burnstein said. "We didn't really have some of the services that this population needed.
"Within the first week, she hired a couple of Assyrian people and since then, we have Assyrian instructors, we have Assyrian administrators and all kinds of support staff, and it's made a big difference."
Many of the younger Assyrian arrivals are from Iraq, officials say. They have experienced depleted educational and other resources over the past 20 or so years.
Grants and other subsidies that support this refugee population, including $300 monthly from Niles Township, will expire at some point at which time students need to be economically self-sufficient or face real financial hardship.
And that is what truly lies at the heart of this important school -- a training ground for assimilation into a new country where students leave being able to fend for themselves.
Students who enter the school speaking little English participate in comprehensive English as a second language classes before they move on to training in accounting, medical or technical fields.
ORT offers 25 hours of ESL classes a week, far more than most programs. The ESL program has seven levels, and students must be at level four or higher before they enter programs for specific vocational training.
ESL teacher Irina Krel has taught classes at ORT ranging from 13 to 24 students and from all different countries.
She came to ORT because, like many teachers, finding work in public schools in the current climate proved difficult. But unlike students in public schools, she said, all of ORT's students are eager to learn and advance in their lives.
"The more countries in the classroom, the better," Krel said. "From a teaching standpoint, if I put a Korean student with someone from the Ukraine, they can't speak any language to each other but English so they learn more quickly."
Krel teaches ESL level two so students who come to her class have limited English skills. She uses children's history books and basic biographies of great Americans to teach the language, and students tend to learn American history along the way.
ORT Technical Institute is not only active in preparing people for jobs, but it follows through in helping students actually nail down jobs. In addition to being an ESL teacher, Krel also works on student resumes and helps produce a newsletter. That is not unusual at ORT. Job placement -- even in this difficult economy -- is a serious part of the school's mission.
Sam Gabay, who oversees the vocational (non-ESL) programs at ORT, has seen the school's offerings expand over his 10 years at the institute.
"We are a vocational school and we never forget that," said Gabay. "Our program is for eight or 10 months and then students are prepared to get a job. We train the students in the work that they want to do. We have a very strong job placement office."
Gabay also works with individual students and counsels them in succeeding at ORT and in the outside world.
On a weekday morning, a handful of students who started life in different parts of the world listen to Alice Molotsky teach accounting. They all share the same goal now: To secure a job for a successful life in the United States.
This is Molotsky's first class, she said, where each student is from a different country.
"That is kind of amazing," she said. "I don't think I've ever had that. As a teacher, beyond just teaching them accounting, I feel like I'm giving them American survival skills. And that's so important.
"The best part of this job is that just about every student is there because they really want to be there."
That's certainly true in the case Lucian Berianu, a 28-year-old Romanian student who began Molotsky's class late last month.
Berianu was working as a production planner and engineer in Romania when he decided he had little future there.
"I got bored doing what I was doing and I wanted something else," he said. "I reached my upper limit there and there was nowhere else (in the company) for me to go."
He already knew how to speak English and so he came to Chicago and to ORT's accounting program.
"It makes sense," he said. "You go to a country where you know the language. If I knew Japanese, I would have gone there."
Like Berianu, fellow classmate 22-year-old Klevis Sata of Albania says ORT's accounting program is preparing him well for a future job.
He was a student studying civil engineering while working as a supervisor for a company when he left his native land. He said that he literally had to pay for good grades to advance in Albania.
So Sata joined his sister in the United States, quickly learning English through ORT's ESL program. A year-and-a-half ago, he spoke and comprehended little English, which is difficult to imagine now.
"The ESL program is the best program of its kind, trust me," Sata said. "No one gives you this kind of training -- five hours a day of English."
ORT administrators and teachers are quick to share success stories about students just like Berianu and Sata. Many of them have been placed in jobs -- even in this tough economy -- and have begun new lives after having gone to ORT, they say.
"It's been tough with this economy, but our students still get jobs," Chudnovsky said. "We just have to work harder. It's difficult, but people count on being able to find work when they leave here."
\ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)
1: an ancient empire of Ashur
2: a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern
Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)
a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of
its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender
4: a democratic state that believes in the freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the
principles of the United Nations Charter —
Ethnicity, Religion, Language
Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
\ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)
1: descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur
2: the Assyrians, although representing but one single
nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now
doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle
ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding
hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the
East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.
These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the
Christian Era. No one can coherently understand the Assyrians
as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church
from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly
difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for
in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control,
religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a
criterion of nationality.
the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya,
Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean,
Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu,
Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye,
Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. —
1: a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of
the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.
2: has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical
Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.