Sky_line

The classes at Skyline Literacy helps individuals prepare for their citizenship test. 

Skyline Literacy was recently awarded a grant of $250,000 from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to aid 250 local, lawful, permanent residents in gaining citizenship. Skyline Literacy shares the grant funds with Church World Services, which will manage the citizenship application services. 

Not only is this Skyline Literacy’s third time receiving this award, but it also was one of 29 organizations out of 41 that received the maximum amount of $250,000. Nelly Shenk, the executive director for Skyline Literacy, said the grant fulfills two purposes.

“The first is the citizenship preparation that is going to be done by Skyline Literacy, and the second is the citizenship application services that are going to be managed by our grant partner, Church World Services,” Shenk said.

The grant helps pay for materials such as textbooks needed in the citizenship classes for the local lawful permanent residents as well as the creation of a new program outreach position. Seventy percent of the grant goes to payroll. Class sections have also changed due to the grant.

“With this grant, we were able to shift from multi-level classes to different citizenship classes divided by lower and higher levels of English speaking,” Shenk said. “Before, we used to have students who were at different English speaking levels in one class.”

Shenk said most of Skyline’s students are from the Kurdish and Arabic communities, as well as different countries in Central and South America. The classes offered are only taught in English to prepare students for the interview portion of the exam, which is completely in English. Shenk said they need to speak at a high beginner English level to have a basic conversation and to read and write sentences.

Skyline Literacy also provides mock interviews for its students. During these mock interviews, they go over information that’s filled out in the N-400 application, which is a form that must be filled out to request citizenship. After applying, there’s an 18-month waiting period until they can become U.S citizens.

Two of the local lawful permanent residents who this grant applies to started classes in October at Skyline Literacy. Irlanda Aguilar and Osvaldo Godoy are both from Mexico.

Aguilar said they’re shown how to fill out an application in classes and that “they are teaching us a little bit of everything.” Godoy said that before going to Skyline Literacy, he “had no clue how to go through this process.”

Although the grant helps pay for materials in classes, Aguilar said the price for filling out the N-400 application is what’s delaying her process toward naturalization. To file the N-400 form, it costs $725.

“The only problem I would say I have had during the process is the money because I need to pay more than $700 to fill out the application,” Aguilar said.

She also said that Skyline Literacy charges $50 for help with their applications, whereas other places charge around $200.

They each have classes twice a week with two teachers in each section.

“We’ve been learning basic stuff. A lot of times we don’t know the answers to civic questions like ‘Who wrote the Constitution?’ or ‘Who was the first president of the United States?’” Godoy said. “Stuff like that is simple for you guys who have gone to school in the United States, but for us, it’s totally new.”

Shenk said that the students need to understand how important it is to receive U.S. citizenship. With this grant, Skyline Literacy is able to keep its doors open and keep helping their students gain citizenship.

“They need to participate in any decision that affects their future, and one way they can do that is by voting because that is the right that they have as citizens,” Shenk said.

Contact Isabela Gladston at gladstia@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.