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Holyoke Community College Launches ESOL Program for Puerto Rican Nurses

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is launching a pilot program to teach English-language skills to nurses from Puerto Rico so they can re-enter the workforce in Massachusetts.

The project, called the Western Mass. Pipeline for Puerto Rican Nurses, gives priority to evacuees from Hurricane Maria but is also open to other nurses from Puerto Rico who now reside in Western Mass.

The free program, supported by a $35,000 Nursing and Allied Health Pathways grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, will provide 108 hours of ESOL (English as a second or other language) classes, six hours a week for 18 weeks, for up to 30 Puerto Rican nurses who want to pursue their licenses in Massachusetts.

“There is a need for more nurses in the region,” said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC’s vice president of Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development. “At the same time, we have nurses from Puerto Rico who are already licensed, have experience, and are living here, and are not able to work in their field and typically working below their education and training because their license doesn’t apply in Massachusetts.”

The ESOL classes are designed to prepare participants to pass the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam, which will qualify them to take the NCLEX nursing exam.

The program is based on the successful Welcome Back Center at Bunker Hill Community College, one of HCC’s partners, along with MassHire Holyoke, formerly CareerPoint. Bunker Hill established the Boston Welcome Back Center in 2005 to help immigrant and refugee nurses who had earned their credentials outside the U.S. obtain their Massachusetts nursing licenses and find jobs.

“The Welcome Back Center has found that, generally, nurses from Puerto Rico don’t need to retake any coursework,” Dunkelberg said. “They need to pass the language exam, so it’s primarily an English barrier and a licensing barrier, and we’re addressing that.”

Dunkelberg said the pilot program could be expanded in the future to include other professionals, such as teachers, who may need to improve their English to get jobs in their fields. “This nursing initiative is hopefully the beginning of a wider look at licensure of people with credentials from Puerto Rico or from other countries so they can enter the workforce in Massachusetts more quickly.”

Classes are tentatively scheduled to begin by the end of September. Nurses from Puerto Rico who are interested in applying should contact Sheila Kelly at [email protected] or (413) 552-2027 for more information.

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