Why Literacy

In the Spotlight

Tutoring Sets Volunteer on New Life Course
By Lynn Smith 

Lynn and Pedro
"They've given me a sense of purpose, family, community and optimism " 

I became an ESOL tutor in 2009, after my friend Becca invited me to a Literacy Council event. The timing was perfect: I'd just discovered my latent interest in English grammar while helping an Iranian friend fine-tune his writing. I knew I needed to get involved at the Council.           

My decision also came from a general need for change. I'd graduated from UNC Asheville with no sense of direction. I'm legally blind, and felt I had nothing to offer. My dad had died the year before, and I was angry all the time. Signing up for the tutor training was part of a larger effort to get out of the rut I'd been in.

I began working with Delia in September 2009. She's a Mexican mother of three whose smile melts everyone. Her shyness dissolved during our first session, as she used her limited English to tell me about her family. Over our two years together, she's gone from High Beginner to High Intermediate level, and continues to work hard and make progress despite many obstacles.

I had endless energy for tutoring and always wanted to improve. Finally, I realized I'd found my passion, so I applied to Western Carolina University's MA program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. In retrospect, this path seems obvious, given my love of language, preference for practical applications, and desire to help people. But I'd never given ESOL any thought before the Literacy Council.

After I decided to go back to school, I felt I needed experience teaching a group. When a Low Beginner class lost its tutor, I stepped in. I've been working with Pedro, Adrián, and Maritza for seven months now, and they, like Delia, are a high point of every week.

Tutoring has been an amazing experience. I worry that I can never do as much for my students as they've done for me. They've given me a sense of purpose, family, community, and optimism that I didn't have before.

Preparing for CitizenshipYevgenia and Aleksey

Congratulations to Nadya Gurynovich, Lyuda Shostak, Jesus Herrera, and Yevgenia & Aleksey Tishchenko (right), all new US citizens who received invaluable support from Literacy Council volunteers this year. To pass the naturalization exam, one must demonstrate knowledge of American history, geography and government as well as English speaking, reading, and writing skills. Tutors who work with students on exam preparation are specially trained by Literacy Council staff on the exam components and how to teach them

Sometimes tutors give personal reasons for their motivation to help prospective citizens: "I do this because someone helped my grandfather. As a third-generation American, I feel I'm giving back somewhat by helping others achieve what my grandfather achieved," says Anne Dachowski, who currently works with four ESOL students, two of whom are preparing for the naturalization exam. Jacob Cohen, who has successfully seen four of his students through the naturalization process, says "Watching them study hard to become something that I was born with is a very humbling experience."

Cohen's student Aleksey Tishchenko explained "Having the tutor lead my learning process was the most helpful thing. It can be overwhelming, everything you have to learn."

The Literacy Council provides 15-20 students per year with a specially trained tutor and a curriculum specific to the naturalization exam. So far we have a 100% pass rate! Click here to try some of the civics questions yourself. (In the real test, applicants are not shown possible answers to choose from.) 

"How could I tell my kids to go to school if I didn't
do it myself?"

"I wanted something better for myself and my family," explained Mary Riddle, who passed the final test for her General Education Diploma in April. As a working mom and part-time student, she invested hours of study and hard work into getting the high school education she missed as a teen.

The GED consists of tests in five different subject areas: reading comprehension, social studies, composition, science and math. When Mary enrolled as a student at the Council in November last year, she had passed the reading comprehension and social studies tests, but was uncertain of her abilities to pass the remaining tests without extra instructional support.
Mignon Durham, Adult Ed. tutor and former Development Director at the Literacy Council, volunteered to work with Mary towards her goal of getting the GED. In six months of steady tutoring the pair covered a wide range of material as Mary prepared for the science and writing tests, and finally the math exam. Their hard work paid off! With passing scores in all subjects, Mary became our first Adult Ed. student to earn a GED in 2010!
Blue Mountain Pizza of Weaverville, NC treated Mary and her family to a celebration dinner in honor of her achievement.

Read more about Mary's inspirational story in her personal interview.

Saluting Our ESOL Students and New U.S. Citizens!

Congratulations to the nine ESOL students who passed the U.S. Naturalization exam and have been awarded citizenship since June 2009 – the beginning of our current fiscal year.

Blanca Torres                 Yolanda Reyes Leon                       Rosa Mercado

Suikang Shi                     Vladimir Karpushev                         Guang Yao

Iulia Hamlet                     Svetlana Karpusheva                      Connie de la Paz

Tutor Jacob Cohen writes of the fun he and his students, the Karpushev’s, had preparing for the exam:   “To congratulate Vladimir and Svetlana on becoming U.S. citizens, I presented them with Russian and American pickles!   It was a gag gift since throughout their prep time I worked into the lessons the only two words of Polish that I remember from my mother – ogorki kvashneh (sour pickle)!”

Adult Education Student Earns Her GED!

Congratulations to Rachael Yisrael for passing all five tests to earn her GED in August, 2009.

Passing the GED test and the U.S. Naturalization exam are real accomplishments for our students.   They both require months of preparation, hard work, and dedication.   We especially thank our volunteer tutors who spend many hours helping their students prepare for the tests.

A volunteer spells tutoring:   P-A-R-T-N-E-R-S-H-I-P!

The first things you notice about Jennifer Brewer are her infectious smile and the spring in her step.   You think, “She’d be lots of fun to work with.”   Then she starts talking about her volunteer work at the Literacy Council and you go, “Wow!   How’d you get so smart?”   Jennifer is the perfect combination of friendly, open-minded, practical, and no nonsense.

Jennifer began tutoring last summer when she had extra time on her hands while looking for a full time job.   She saw a LItCouncil ad recruiting volunteers to tutor non-readers.   Jennifer had all the usual questions:   Who is this person that I’ll tutor?   Where will we meet?   And can I do this?   “The ad mentioned that the Literacy Council would train the tutors,” Jennifer says.   “That’s what really got me started.   The training answered all my questions and helped calm my fears about how to be a good tutor.”

Jennifer ’s student, James, declined to be interviewed – but wants his story told nevertheless.   And Jennifer is more than delighted to oblige.   She glows with pride when she recalls how much progress James has made.   In fact – how much they both have grown and how deep their friendship and appreciation of each other has become.

James is a smart and engaging man in his 40’s who owned his own home repair business before getting tangled up with drugs.   He served his time in prison and was released to a half-way house.   Going through rehab required James to admit his addiction – but it also meant that he had to admit that he couldn’t read.

Although he graduated from high school, his teachers never helped him address a reading disability.   James cleverly negotiated alternative projects with his teachers in lieu of completing reading or writing assignments.   At the half-way house, the residents meet regularly and are required to read out loud from a recovery book.   When James couldn’t fake his reading ability any longer, he decided to contact the Literacy Council.

Working with Jennifer, James has progressed from a reading level 3 to a level 8 in just six months!   He is now concentrating on spelling and sight reading.   And today he enjoys reading just for pleasure on his own.   James’ goal is to enter AB Technical College and get a degree in Social Work.

But the value and lasting benefits of the tutoring sessions, as both James and Jennifer discovered, extend far beyond reading.

Jennifer and James hold their tutoring sessions in the café at Earthfare where Jennifer works as Community Relations Coordinator.   James likes to come early and hang around for a bit after their session to socialize with the Earthfare employees.   Earthfare has become a safe place where James can reinvent himself and develop his social skills.   At Earthfare, James doesn’t have a history.   He isn’t an addict or a felon or a non-reader.   Earthfare is a place where everybody knows him as just “ James – a good guy and a friend.”

James is now employed as House Manager at the half-way house.   His job and new responsibilities have added the dimension of life-skills coaching to tutoring sessions.   He and Jennifer begin each session with talk about “what’s going on.”   These conversations address day-to-day concerns like interpersonal skills, being a leader among people who used to be peers, managing anger, communicating, and setting aside personal time for oneself.

Jennifer and James – tutor and student – demonstrate a true partnership.   Their friendship has grown strong through honest and open dialog, mutual respect, and sharing life’s everyday problems and successes.

The Golden Nugget:   Tears come to her eyes when Jennifer describes her “aha” moment – when she realizes that she has conquered her personal fears of being a good tutor and connecting with a complete stranger.

“I know it sounds trite, but I get back so much more than I give,” says Jennifer.   “The hardest part for me has been making my time as a tutor a priority – not letting my work schedule interfere with tutoring.   I’ve also discovered that learning has to be honest and straightforward.

“I’ve learned not to let my student – or myself – hide in the past or ignore fears and misplaced attitudes.   It’s easy to pretend these things [broken lives and personal hardship] aren’t happening.   But these are real people who want to do better.   I love giving my time to my dear friend James.”

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