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ESL at WSU: Thousands of students, more than 30 years

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Salim Khalifa poses for a photo at the ESL lab at Weber State University. (Mujtaba AlRashed / The Signpost)

The LEAP Department has now been serving Weber State University for over 30 years, guiding thousands of international students.

The acronym LEAP stands for “Learning English for Academic Purposes.” This program provides intensive English language courses for students in the process of acquiring English as another language for academic use.

Most international students already speak two or more languages, which is why the ESL Program (English as a Second Language) changed to the LEAP program.

Professor Mark Peterson initiated the program at Weber State. He and another colleague began the program in 1982. Peterson recently retired from his position as an assistant professor.

There are different levels within the program. They go from one to seven, and students can progress to the next level every two months — if they pass all their classes.

The classes offered are writing, grammar, pronunciation, interpersonal communication and other topics specific to learning English.

There have been cases of students that grew up in the United States but within their homes they only spoke Spanish. This presents a disadvantage to them in university studies and career fields because they have not developed English naturally as children.

“We teach people from all over the world,” said Debi Sheridan, the chair of the LEAP Department. She came to the United States from the UK in 1999 to work as a tutor at WSU. She has been working for the department for 17 years now, and has been head of the department for three years.

“The program helped me learn how to write papers, talk to people and start my general studies,” said Salim Khalifa, 21, a student of the LEAP program on the fall of 2014 at WSU.

Khalifa is from Tunisia, a small nation in north Africa. Khalifa’s native languages are Arabic and French. He began his English classes in level six, and after finishing the program, he began college classes.

“The program has also helped me achieve a lot in life,” Khalifa said.

Now, Khalifa is a junior at WSU. He is currently enrolled in the pre-med program with a microbiology and chemistry minor. Khalifa is also the current Traditional Student Senator.

“The frustration that I felt when I came to the USA was huge. Now that I have been for three semesters in the program, I can assure that the program gave me my life back,” said Brenda Fernandez, a current international student from Argentina. She began the program in level three last spring and is still in the program.

The LEAP program has created several opportunities for students all over the world. This program has had students from all five continents. It has also had refugee students who have finished their bachelor’s degree.

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