First Baptist Church’s ESL program helped thousands learn English for over more than 50 years

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -  When it feels like everything in life is trying to divide us, there's a program in that's still working to unify people from around the globe, just like it's done for 50 years.

First Baptist Church celebrated a milestone on Thursday for the English as a Second Language program. You might not realize at first glance that you are seeing First Baptist Church in Huntsville. There are classrooms filled with people of many different cultures, speaking different languages.

"God has just brought the world to Huntsville," Director Ann Smith said.

The ESL program unites 197 students from 38 countries. It's played a role in role in making Huntsville home for people in the program for 50 years.

"We have 13 classes that range from students that are learning the alphabet, learning to read," Smith explained. "We include a citizenship class."

Fifteen students began the ESL program on February 15, 1968. That lead to 90 students by the end of the year. Sylvia Bailey taught the first class with students from Korea, Cuba and Germany.

"The first years I taught I had a lot of the wives from the Von Braun team," Bailey said.

More than 75 people achieved their US citizenship through this program over the years, and it all began in the Rocket City.

"Huntsville is a real melting pot, there are people from all over the country, not just all over Alabama, but all over the world," Co-Director Tom Guffin said.

The program at First Baptist Church is the longest continuous ESL program in the state. More than 6,000 students from 197 countries have learned to speak English through the program over the last 50 years.