News Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Daniel Wackershauser, Marketing Specialist
Phone: 608.822.2303
Mail: 1800 Bronson Blvd., Fennimore, WI 53809
Date of Release: December 1, 2022

New ELL classes popular in Darlington

Approximately 60 adult learners attend weekly classes

Darlington -

Kalee Crist with some of her ELL students in Darlington.

An eager group of adults in Darlington is on their way to learning English. A partnership between Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and the Darlington School District, has drawn approximately 60 adult learners to weekly classes since September.

Kalee Crist (back, fifth from left) with some of her ELL students in Darlington.

Kalee Crist, a Darlington High School graduate and a bi-lingual teacher at the high school is working two nights each week for Southwest Tech, teaching ELL (English Language Learner) classes to Darlington residents. The classes are held at the high school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 p.m., 5-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Students can choose which hour they’d like to attend. The 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. hours are more of a beginning level, while the 6 p.m. class is more of an advanced-level class.

“The growth of the class has been phenomenal,” said Julie Pluemer, adult basic education/outreach coordinator at Southwest Tech. “Kalee has new students joining the class each week. It is more than I anticipated. We will do our best to accommodate all students who want to participate.”

“It has been incredible,” said Crist, who double-majored in elementary and Spanish education at UW-Platteville and has traveled the world honing her Spanish-speaking and comprehension skills. That travel included a semester in Seville, Spain as well as a five-week experience in Costa Rica after earning a Fulbright Scholarship.

Kalee Crist (front, third from right) with some of her ELL students in Darlington.

Although her academic experiences have taught her a lot, Crist notes that her best teachers have been her students. “I am constantly learning new words and cultural norms, traditions, and unique perspectives from my students and their families, and I feel blessed that they share their lives with me,” she said.

Crist taught Spanish at Lancaster High School for one year before joining the Darlington School District 10 years ago. “I feel like our district has done an excellent job meeting the needs of our students and our families, but that next phase was meeting the needs of the parents and their language learning,” she said.

When Crist was initially hired for the communications/adult adjunct instructor position through Southwest Tech, she focused on recruiting parents of her students. “I had a huge number of people apply,” she said. “And then it opened up to the community, as well.”

Dr. Jason Wood speaks with ELL students during a dinner that Southwest Tech hosted recently at Darlington High School.

“I am so pleased with the success of this course,” said Pluemer. “I have been able to observe the class a couple of times. The students are absolutely wonderful and Kalee is an extraordinary instructor that helps each student feel at ease and wanting to learn.”

Many of the high school students that Crist teaches are first generation students. “After the students’ own language learning experience in our district, they are now able to translate for their parents when they go to hospitals or to the grocery store, etc,” said Crist. “That gives them a great sense of pride.  Now I am super excited that their families are learning simultaneously alongside their children.  It’s been a really beautiful process.”

“I had the pleasure of visiting Kalee and her students recently,” said Dr. Jason Wood, Southwest Tech president. “I am very impressed with all of the work they are doing. The students are certainly excited about this opportunity, and we are thrilled to be able to partner with the school district to make this happen.”

Kalee Crist speaks with her students during a dinner that Southwest Tech hosted recently at Darlington High School.

One of the unique things the Darlington School District features is it has an English language Facebook page, as well as a Spanish-language Facebook page. This page, along with the  WhatsApp texting application allows Crist to post updates and notices for her Spanish-speaking population. “Our community and our district have done an incredible job of growing with the times and growing with the population and the needs of our community,” said Crist. “Our school district has definitely been the front runner of figuring out how to meet those challenges.”

With the classes being held at the high school, Crist informs the adult learners about events happening at the high school after class, and oftentimes they attend the events, which has increased parental and community involvement with the school.

Crist is also very proud of her high school students who volunteer in the classes. Two students that Crist had in third and fourth grade are now volunteering in class, helping teach their parents English.

Approximately 60 students attend the ELL classes each week.

One of the student volunteers is Olivia Kleiber, a junior at Darlington High School. “When we have new students, I’ll sometimes take them and catch them up with what they’ve missed in past classes,” she said. Kleiber hopes to one-day be an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.

Brendy Borjas, 19, is taking classes at Southwest Tech and wants to eventually be a nurse. She volunteers in Crist’s class. She knows everyone in the class. “They are very excited,” she said, noting she helps with pronunciation. Borjas came to the United States from Honduras. She initially moved to Kentucky with her family, before settling in Darlington.

Crist’s students come from all over the world.  In one class, she might have seven countries represented including South Korea, Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and more.

Dr. Jason Wood assists in the food line during a recent dinner celebration at Darlington High School, hosted by Southwest Tech.

One of Crist’s goals for the ELL students is to have them progress through the year-long program. She has had great consistency with attendance, and everyone has been eager to learn. “There is a definite energy of everyone in the classes with several students commenting happily that we ‘finally, we can have an English class,’” she said.

“With 60 people joining the classes, it’s obviously a need,” added Crist. “It just goes to show that people want to learn the language. It’s just that we don’t have enough volunteers or community classes offered to help people.”

As for the goal, learning English can open many doors for her students. “I have several students who want to improve their English so that they are able to get their GED and improve their job opportunities,” said Crist. “However, the majority of the adults in the classes just want to be able to communicate with their neighbors and be able to use their English to help their children with homework and to communicate independently at local businesses.”

Crist is looking for community volunteers to serve as language partners. If her students are out in the community, it will be easier for them to feel comfortable to use English with their language partner. “If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable practicing with, you are never going to use the language you are learning,” she said. “I am excited to further connect our community through these classes.”

Southwest Tech operates an outreach center in each five-county county district. ELL courses are offered free of charge at each outreach center. “The goal of the class is to help students improve their skills in reading, writing, and speaking English,” said Pluemer. “Ideally, we would love to help them find an appropriate career path, whether it be through further training or direct employment.”

To learn more about Southwest Tech outreach opportunities, visit

Dr. Jason Wood (back row, fifth from left) is pictured with some of the ELL students in Darlington.


| Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, a finalist for the 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, is one of 16 institutions that comprise the Wisconsin Technical College System. Southwest Tech offers more than 60 programs in a wide variety of disciplines. Courses are offered on campus, online, HyFlex and in a blended format. The college provides apprenticeship, certificate, technical diploma, and associate degree programs that respond to district workforce needs and prepare student for family-sustaining jobs and career advancement. |

Posted in General, Outreach Center