Building a Shared Language: Reflecting on Workplace Education with Tyson Foods

Emily Hackerson

American Dream Fellow 2015-2016


For the last few months my work weeks have had a new rhythm. Not that life as an American Dream Fellow is particularly routine (far from it), but my schedule is now punctuated by the least expected of privileges: spending early mornings and late nights with a new host of characters at a Tyson chicken plant in Springdale.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but there's something distinctly inviting about a fresh brewed pot at 5am as I greet Tyson employees that have already been up for hours, coming off the night shift at the Randall Road plant along with those bustling in for morning duty. Suddenly my sense of self-satisfaction for being up so early withers - I'm an imposter here, and I'm sure it shows.

Since February the Cisneros Center has project managed a community-wide effort to bring ESL classes and information on much-needed community resources - from personal finances to health care - directly to Tyson team members at plants. Currently in its pilot phase, it is powerful to already feel the potential of this project as it seeks to, as the phrase goes, meet people where they're at, both literally and otherwise.

On any given night, speaking with the many Tyson workers that arrive for classes, I can expect to be humbled, energized, filled with laughter and new perspective. I marvel at the sacrifices the team members make for their children and at the good humor they bring to hard work and tough-to-navigate circumstances. These aren't novel thoughts or statements - they are the natural consequences of moving oneself closer to people and places that were previously unknown. Which is a large part of the mission of the Workplace Education Program at Tyson; a chicken plant shouldn't be a world apart, yet for many employees it is, largely because of language barriers that affect one's ability to live fully and completely in Northwest Arkansas.

I am proud to be a part of this project because it gives everyone involved - from Tyson Chaplains and nonprofit employees at groups like Ozark Literacy Council or Legal Aid of Arkansas, to AmeriCorps volunteers and ESL learners - the necessary tools to create a shared language, both in and outside the plant. I'm learning invaluable lessons from individuals that make up the community I'm just entering into, and I hope - even in my early-morning haze - to return the favor in whatever way I can.

Cisneros Center for New Americans


San Antonio Headquarters

303 Pearl Pkwy, Suite 114

San Antonio, TX 78215




Washington, D.C. Office

1805 7th St. NW, 6th floor

Washington, D.C. 20001





Northwest Arkansas Office

614 E Emma Ave., Suite 234

Springdale, AR 72764

Phone. 781-819-0187