A program for English language learners that spans 54 years in Lawrence will accept new enrollees for its spring classes.
Operated by volunteers, Small World Lawrence began in 1968 after a group of women accompanied their professor-husbands on a project in Venezuela. When they returned, they were inspired, said Kathy Mulinazzi, director of Small World Lawrence. “They had an appreciation for what it’s like to live in another country and not really speak the language.”
The women put out a call for volunteers. Forty women showed up to help, Mulinazzi said, and the plans for Small World took root. What began as a social opportunity for moms and their young children in the 1960s has evolved into language classes that help women develop their English skills in a 21st-century world. A half-century later, it no longer offers a children’s program but still operates at First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway.
Another mainstay: The program is run by women volunteers and for women students.
Mulinazzi said that consistency has helped welcome students into a secure environment that takes into consideration cultural differences, including the ways men and women interact with each other. In some cultures, she noted, men and women are not educated together.
When Mulinazzi and her family moved to Lawrence more than 40 years ago from Maryland, she said she learned how it felt to live in a strange place and not know anyone. “Just meeting one person made such a difference … This is home. This is a safe environment, and women need that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered Small World’s language classes, as it has all forms of education, and enrollment has fallen. In previous years, 75 students might enroll per semester. The program shut down in March 2020, and when it restarted in the fall of 2021, only 20 students attended.
Mulinazzi said several factors have contributed to the decline, including students who have chosen not to return in order to avoid possible exposure to the virus, fewer international students enrolled at KU and changes to meeting times.
Another pandemic challenge has been facial masking, she said. Learning and teaching a language can feel daunting behind a mask, as explained in this article from the Lawrence High School Budget. Virus protocols have also led to the cancellation of food-dominated cultural and social events enjoyed by volunteers, students and family members; nevertheless, Mulinazzi feels grateful for the teachers and staff who have committed to keeping the program alive, as well as the consistent support of First Presbyterian Church.
Mulinazzi invited all women interested in learning English who live in Douglas County or the surrounding areas and speak another primary language.
Those interested in enrolling for the spring semester can register in person on the first day of class. The group meets 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting Tuesday, Jan. 18, and offers multiple levels of instruction from beginning to advanced. Classes at First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway, coincide with the academic calendar for the University of Kansas and run through Thursday, May 5. Tuition costs $15 per semester.
For safety, these rules will be in place:
- Wear a mask at all times.
- Enter through the east door.
- Have your temperature checked when you enter the building.
- Use hand sanitizer upon entering the building.
- Do not bring in any outside food or drink.
- Wear your name tag inside the building.