WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Nevis graduate helps refugees learn English

Editor’s note: The Park Rapids Enterprise launched a series of articles called “Where are they now?” to highlight the achievements of area high school graduates. If you know of an alum from Park Rapids, Nevis, Menahga or Laporte who has landed a unique or exceptional job, earned a prestigious award or performed an extraordinary task, contact editor Shannon Geisen at

Amanda Hass recently participated in an adult education professional development training in Washington, D.C. The 2013 Nevis graduate teaches English to adults through a non-profit organization in Vermont.
Contributed / Amanda Hass

When Amanda Hass graduated from Nevis High School in 2013 she enrolled in a pre-med program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“I was going to be a doctor,” she said. “The classes were very interesting, and I did really well.”

While watching an open knee surgery she decided a career in medicine was not for her. “I was getting pretty nauseous and when the surgeon was getting the big saw, I felt faint and had to leave,” she said.

Hass changed her major, graduating with Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and anthropology. “One of the subfields of anthropology is linguistics,” she said.

“We had a Spanish class in Nevis, and I loved learning a different language. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life and love what you can do with words, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I really got interested in linguistics, how we build language. I lived in England for a year and got to go to museums and look at the origins of English. It was fascinating to me.”


That experience led her to go on and earn her master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 2021.

“An applied linguist uses linguistic training to understand how we create, process and use language in applied settings, like teaching English to English language learners, translating and other jobs,” she said.

The daughter of Marie and Tom Hass of Nevis, she credits her parents for giving her a good start towards the path she is now on.

“The support of my parents, as well as the staff and faculty at Nevis, was instrumental to my success in my personal and professional life,” she said. “My parents, especially, as they provided me many opportunities to become well rounded, and the staff and faculty at Nevis for always creating more challenging and thoughtful assignments for me. What has stuck with me the most was the diversity of activities at Nevis School, along with exploring different activities and having a variety of friends. I was in drama, sports and robotics and had people I could talk to about different interests.”

Hass and her husband, Ben Block, live in Montpelier, Vermont, a town of 7,000 people.

The couple met in a calculus class during their freshman year at UMD. “We’ve been together since 2014 and got married in 2021,” she said.

“I was finishing up my degree when he got a job in Montpelier as an aquatic biologist. I started volunteering as an English teacher at the nonprofit Central Vermont Adult Basic Education to see how I would like it. It ended up being very serendipitous that one of the teachers retired and I was hired.”

As teacher and community coordinator with the nonprofit, the majority of the adults Hass works with have relocated to the U.S. from other countries.


“It’s a joy for me,” she said. “It’s so diverse. Immigrants and refugees, asylum seekers. It really fluctuates with geo-political situations. Two years ago, we had a pretty large influx of Afghani refugees. This past year, there has been a pretty large influx of Ukrainian and Russian refugees.”

Adults are referred to the program to learn basic literacy skills.

“It is fun and challenging,” she said. “I don’t know their languages, but because of my applied linguist background I know how all languages are structured and can draw on the building blocks of language to understand how we do it in English and slowly make lines across from their language to English.

“We use a lot of pictures and gestures. A lot of the Afghani refugees have zero literacy. The women were not allowed to learn. So in addition to English, I’ve also taught women to read and write for the first time.

“We have amazing volunteers in the community who pair with groups of students and walk with them every day, help them get set up. I work with them on survival English skills, such as how to check out at the grocery store, shopping vocabulary, introducing yourself. Medical appointments are incredibly important for the Afghani refugees coming from a war-torn country.”

She said her classes include teaching the alphabet and sounds and basic vocabulary, such as body parts, the names for common items in homes and schools and communicating their phone number and address.

“I start with those and build conversation skills,” she said.

Adults from various countries attend the same class. “That makes it challenging,” she said. “I encourage the use of their native language because research shows that drawing parallels between the two languages helps them remember more. I’ll often ask what an item is in their language. I repeat it and then say it in English.”


Once her students have some English skills, most of them go on to get jobs in the community.

“I still try to check in with them once a month to see how it’s going and if I can help get them any materials to help them continue learning on their own,” she said.

The children of these refugees receive English as a Second Language services in school.

“I’ve started to include children’s books in the adult curriculum that they can go home and read with their kids,” she said. “When all of them practice together, they feel a part of their children’s lives.

“While this job is fulfilling, it’s very difficult. A lot of my students have experienced trauma, and it comes up. That’s very difficult.”

Hass was recently invited to participate in an adult education professional development training by the American Institutes for Research held at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

In the future, Hass and her husband hope to live in Duluth.

“We got married there and it’s our favorite city,” she said. “Minnesota has an amazing adult education program. A job with Literacy Minnesota would be awesome!”


She also hopes to write a book one day.

“My goal is to one day become an author,” she said. “It is a dream of mine that a young girl, like I once was, will browse through a library and choose one of my books.”


Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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