The USTMAX Center, a microcampus of the University of St. Thomas in Conroe, is rolling out an intermediate English as a Second Language class for Spanish-speaking households to meet demand for more ESL classes in the area, university officials said.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey estimates show the number of residents age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home increased 19.39% from 2016-21 in Conroe-area ZIP codes.

Of those, the number of people who speak Spanish grew from 29,114 to 33,877 from 2016-21.

Recruitment Counselor Brenda Banegas said when the center launched the ESL program in spring 2021, it received interest from over 500 community members, but the center only has availability for 15 students.

Once the class ended, Banegas said the need for an intermediate class was apparent.

“One of my favorite things is the confidence that [participants in the program] gain,” Banegas said.

“So for me, that is one of the greatest things that brings me joy and makes me feel good about teaching this ESL class is that we are making a difference, yes, by helping them speak English, but also by helping them have more confidence and higher self-esteem.”

As demand has grown, Alumni Paul Vallhonrat donated funds to expand the program to the intermediate level.

The ESL classes have a registration fee of $75; however, upon completing the entire course with three or fewer absences, participants are refunded their money.

Those interested in taking an ESL course can register on the USTMAX website.

The USTMAX Center is not the only place that has recognized a need for ESL classes in Conroe. Literacy First is a free English program that has been operating out of First Baptist Conroe for nine years.

According to founder and Program Director Connie Anthony, the program is not only geared toward Spanish-based households, but also enrolls participants from over 15 countries.

Anthony said before the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment was around 90-100 participants.

Anthony said the program offers five levels and teaches English as well as American History. Anthony said her mission is to provide the community with opportunities to partner and grow English proficiency across the city.

“Anyone in the community that is interested in starting or has a program, just contact me because I feel like all of us getting together and sharing what we are able to do, there may be something that you provide [that can be shared with participants],” Anthony said.