Students' Success Stories 2013-14
We all enjoy success stories. They are positive messages about overcoming obstacles, working hard for the reward, and finding satisfaction in completing challenges. Read about the students who have obtained citizenship, those who escaped war torn countries and now have assimilated into American society and absorbed our culture, and those who finally read a bedtime story to a young child or grandchild. That last achievement has a special significance for a Basic Literacy student after a lifetime of frustration and low self-esteem. Here at Literacy Volunteers of America we like to celebrate all those positive events in our students’ lives. Sometimes we celebrate with hugs and treats, but most often, we share these achievements with others through this page on our website. That way all of our LVA community can share in the celebration of their success!
I come from Sudan. It is a big country in the North East of Africa. I was born in a small town, which is about thirty-three miles from Khartoum the capital of Sudan. My town is located next to the Blue Nile, so most of the people depend on planting and trading.
In the nineties I started thinking about the U.S.A. When I moved to Khartoum to study at the university. I met some students who have relatives in the U.S. At that time I knew how people come to America, which is by Visa lottery. It is too difficult to find a regular visa in a small office. When we finished the paper work, I said to my wife, ‘we are traveling to the U.S., I am just joking’ because I know how it is not easy to win the lottery visa to immigrant to U.S. with fifty thousand people from all over the world. We waited about six month for the result of the lottery. Even I did not go back to the small Visa office to ask for the result, because 100% we are not going to win the Visa lottery. A week after the result were posted, my friend called me and said, ‘you won the lottery.’ And I never believed him until I went to that same office I saw my name printed with the other winners. Immediately, I called my wife and I told her about the result.
A few months after that we started to do more paper work with the immigrant office to get our self ready to leave our country. Then, they gave us an appointment for the interview with the consul at Cairo Embassy. It was a long process but everything was ready and done. After that we started our travel to the U.S. I remember the first day we arrived at JFK airport. In january2011, it was snowy and very cold. That was the fist time for us to see snow on the ground! My children were shivering. We lived in Newark and later moved to Belleville where we live now.
I remember the first time when I went out side to meet some people and asking them to help me for work. That was very hard for me at the beginning because I had problems speaking and communicating with people. Then I started to think about the language and how I am going to solve this issue. Even though I spoke English a little but it was not enough, So I went to a college to find some English classes and I register for an ESL class. Also, I decided to take more classes to make my language even better. I went to Bloomfield Library to register for another class. I did all of this to improve my language and to find work in the future, and with time change my life and support my family.
Student: Doha & Asata
Two women, two disparate backgrounds. And yet each feels comfortable with the other. They are eager to share in one another’s successes and disappointments. Both women have bolstered each others’ confidence. This combination of abilities is supportive of their growth in English. Pairing two students works well because each contributes to the learning experience of the lesson. Doha, for example, is more comfortable using English. Her pronunciation has improved greatly as this group setting has given her more opportunities to speak. Asata’s goal of improving her reading has benefitted from sharing the reading experience in the class. Asata greatly enjoys being part of the group as her self-confidence, as well as her English, have advanced. The advantage of having multiple students is that each student comes with her own set of strengths and weaknesses; in a class all can contribute and feel that they are learning and they are helping one another at the same time. The key is for you to learn to work with the students in front of you. Each student comes with strengths and weaknesses and, from one student to the next, they are rarely the same. The focus should be on creating a cohesive unit.
Rolando G. is my student. I have known him since late October of 2013. He is from Honduras. He left behind his family, wife and three children. Recently both a sister-in-law and his father passed in Honduras. He missed a couple of his sessions. I knew it was difficult for him. I know he calls there every night. His job is pumping gas at a local station. He is out during all sorts of weather. Rolando has no car so he uses a bicycle to travel. He uses it to get to classes, riding in bad weather, in darkness.
He recently expressed that he cannot read a newspaper. We read some poetry and simple books. We do repetition drills, orally and written, breaking down words, etc. Rolando is quite determined to learn. He does his homework as much as he can under the circumstances. I do see some improvement. The fact that without provocation he mentioned the paper situation says a lot about him. He also mentioned that I have a lot of patience, (he had some hesitation in pronouncing the word). When a student is unafraid to do that tells me he is gaining confidence. We recently shared the cost of a new dictionary. It’s now an important part of his education. Lastly, he and my other students are really polite. When on the phone or with me they will say, “thank you teacher” when the lesson is over. Respectful, yes. And that is beautiful to hear.’
I have been working for a few years with an exceptional LVA student, Khedya Idris. Khedya managed to flee from a very abusive African regime when she was a young woman. She has lived in various countries in her courageous life journey. She is now a proud American citizen, a mother and wife. As an individual, her faith, her personal charm, and generosity continue to be an inspiration to me. Her continuous struggle to improve her literacy are constantly motivated be her bright young daughter and Khedya's strong belief in the importance of education for young women. You can often find Khedya in the children' s room of the Montclair Library quizzing the children 's librarians on appropriate children's authors she can read with her daughter and library programs to encourage her daughter's active curiosity.
Jill (not her real name) has many health problems, including severe neurological issues. On top of this, she is riddled with many difficult life challenges. Despite her adverse circumstances, she is tenacious about learning.
When we first began working together about seven months ago, she knew only a few sight words. We worked hard on decoding skills and learning simple words such as “cat.” Jill has fine-tuned her skills diligently and is now able to read sections of the newspaper on her own. The other day she called me and breathlessly read an advertisement from the newspaper regarding miscellaneous items for sale. To get that phone call was a thrill for me. Every teacher waits for that moment. Our sessions together are not a one -way relationship. We both come away from our lessons with mutual satisfaction.
I’m very lucky to have had Hawa assigned to me as my first basic literacy student. She’s extremely personable, speaks English, and is quite devoted to learning to also read and write in English.
Hawa’s goals are to be able to read to her son when he returns to the US from Liberia, where he’s been living with her mother. She wants to help with his school work when he arrives, to be able to shop comfortably in the supermarket, and to get her driver’s license eventually.
We began with Hawa learning to write the alphabet. She knew her first assignment at each session was to write it out – upper and lower case -- on lined paper I provided. I’d check it, and she would nearly always want to do it over until she got it exactly right. She’d also practice writing her full name, address and telephone number, which she quickly mastered. Next, she'd read the name and the sound of each letter and the most common letter combinations from flash cards.
Because she wants to be more comfortable shopping at the supermarket, I had Hawa bring in a store circular. Her homework had been to circle pictures of things she'd be most likely to buy. I took this list, plus other basics such as body parts, household appliances/furnishings and directional/emergency signs she would need to know, and created flash cards we’d use for practice. I created a second set that had a word or picture on one side and were blank on the other. Hawa looked forward to a matching game we’d play to end each session where I’d spread the cards out with blank sides up. She’d pick up two cards at a time, and replace them if they weren't a match. When she got a match she'd hand the cards to me, continuing until all the cards were matched.
Hawa can now pronounce most of the words in a book she wants to read to her son when he arrives. We're working towards sight recognition of the 300 most frequently used English words by this summer. In the year we have worked together, she has made remarkable progress -- and working with her has been a total delight.
Clifford Henry became an LVA student in 2009. An Iraq war veteran, he works evening shift as a cook in a restaurant, takes adult literacy classes offered at a local school, goes for Army Reserve duty, and arrives three times a week at the opening of the West Orange Library for hourly LVA tutoring sessions. Clifford began with a minimal reading vocabulary. His comprehension and word attack skills keep improving. At his level, he can now read silently and rephrase the text. He did not write at the start. For homework, he is creating entertaining stories on his laptop using pictures as prompts. In addition to being adept at keyboarding, he has been dictating words into his smart phone to access the correct spelling. Clifford appreciates his new skills. He eloquently expresses the wonders of being able to read and write.
I am very proud of my student Amaal. Since I started working with her in late September 2013 she has made very tangible progress. I am not her first tutor, nor is she my first student, but she is definitely my most motivated student. Her goal is to become a school bus driver. To do this, she must pass a specialized driver’s exam in English. We are working on phonics and reading simple texts. In addition, after she told me she did not understand American money, we spent a few weeks focusing on that. She now can count out the proper change for buses, and has a basic understanding of a base 10 number system. Her desire to learn is impressive!
Citizenship can be a huge accomplishment in the life of an immigrant who once struggled to learn the language of her adopted country. But there are other gains, smaller but still meaningful, that many LVA students accomplish. For Daniela, a Peruvian-born LVA student, joy comes simply from sitting in the park and being able to hold her own in an English conversation. “We are both delighted with that accomplishment,” said her tutor, Judy Tabs.
I would like to nominate Yolanda Valdivieso for recognition. Yolanda has been attending ESL sessions with me at West Orange Public Library faithfully for close to three years. She has grown steadily in her ability to speak and understand English, and her confidence to do so has increased. She is diligent and committed and has persevered in what had seemed an impossible task for her originally. Her desire to conquer her fear and master her second language is admirable, and I respect her efforts in seeking to achieve these goals.
Polina Yordanova has been a student with Literacy Volunteers of America for less than one year and is already making great strides. She came to the United States from her native Bulgaria with very limited English skills. In her home country, she was highly educated and worked full time as an accountant. Upon her arrival to the United States, Polina had to begin to learn English and build the confidence needed to start her new life. Her new life also included navigating uncharted waters for her young daughter as well.
In August, 2013 Polina’s life began to change. She started working with LVA tutor Ann Talpur. “At the beginning, Polina found it very difficult to understand and speak English,” Ann said. “She did not even know simple words to explain what she wanted to say. Polina is a hard worker, said Ann, who meets with her twice each week. Polina is writing language experience stories, putting into words the story of her life, and each story is becoming more content rich as both her skills and vocabulary grow.” Other techniques Ann employed were the use of newspapers and magazines of interest to expand Polina’s vocabulary and ESL websites to improve listening skills.
“I am so happy to say that because of her hard work, steady attention toward her English class, and doing regular home work, she is on the road to achieve her goals bit by bit,” said Ann. She can now independently go to her daughter’s school and talk to the teachers about her daughter’s progress. Polina is now a volunteer at the Bloomfield Public Library.
It is a wonderful experience bring a Literacy Volunteer working with Maria. Working together we both learn and gain experiences during our sessions. Sharing a love of reading, exchanging recipes, and discussing cultural experiences provides a wealth of material to increase language skills. With a variety of authors, Ludlum and Mary Higgins Clark have become our favorites. Discussions lead to a variety of ways to develop conversational language skills. Sharing recipes provides different type of experience and a very tasty one. With this variety of experiences I hope it has and will continue to lead to an increased confidence and fluency in Maria's skills.
Student: Gerard & Julia
In any educational setting there are many ways to evaluate or judge student success. Sometimes we look at how students adapt to the learning environment, we monitor the enthusiasm of the learners, and we judge the confidence level of those participating in a program. Of course, we also use quantitative standards for that is the easiest measure to employ.
I like to look beyond numerical evaluations for I feel that the adults in a literacy program go well beyond just performing on a standard evaluation. I have had the pleasure of working with a Haitian gentleman who has a letter/sound disability meaning that he can not use phonics for decoding yet he wants to be part of the Literacy Volunteers Program even though his progress is slow. He is using a sight word method and he keeps increasing his vocabulary. He has no intention of stopping his participation and he is gaining confidence. He has the patience to continue learning even though his progress cannot be measured in the traditional manner.
Another student with whom I am working is a young Asian woman. She is already a reader, but her comprehension lags behind her decoding. Her receptive language is excellent; however she is concerned about expressing herself properly. Another of her concerns is fitting into the American community. We spend time discussing school concerns, American diet and cooking, and American culture. Her weekly needs determine the direction of our sessions. She is the leader and I am the mentor.
Both of these students are successful, but in different ways. In schools we use differentiated instruction meaning we tailor our instruction to the student. In Literacy Volunteers we do the same thing. That’s what makes this a valuable program for we meet the individual needs of those who seek our assistance.
When Maria entered my group of "high beginners" in October 2013, it was clear to me she would be a bright addition. Our group engages in conversation natural to all people; talk of our past, our present needs and future hopes.
Maria's strong love for her mother back in northern Brazil, (she is one of 15 children), and her love her American husband and teenage daughter are evident. One of her goals was to become an American citizen.
Maria is the kind of person who focuses well on the job at hand. I had no doubt she would pas the exam she took on January 25th. And she did!
Congratulations, Maria Jackson of Bloomfield, New Jersey.
I started tutoring my student a little over a year ago at the Bloomfield Library. She had just recently arrived in the U.S. from Iran with no family support in the United States. Her native tongue is Farsi and she is very anxious to learn English, get a job, and become integrated in the English speaking communities. To do so, she had to overcome many obstacles. She worked very hard at this and I am happy to say that she is on the road to achieving her goal by enrolling in the Capri School for beauticians. Congratulations to her.
“When I think about my students I am so very proud of them,” wrote LVA tutor Alexandria Tom. “Dashamir for his determination, drive and willingness to take risks/commit. We use index cards and, according to his son, Dashamir puts all of the index cards up on the wall and practices each night after work. He does not give up!”
Laura is one of LVA’s youngest tutors. She first approached us in 2011, while still a junior at Verona High School. By the time she completed tutor training the following year, she’d already taught reading and writing to Chinatown immigrants through a New York City-based literacy project.
“It sparked my interest in teaching English,” Laura, 19, said of her Sunday sessions in Chinatown. “I just wanted to help people, talk to other people, see their perspectives and help them through any difficulties they were having, especially literacy-wise.”
She met Corine, her third LVA student, last fall. Learning wasn’t limited to a table at the local library. Corine, from Paris, France, learned about Halloween while carving pumpkins at Laura’s home. They played word games over Thanksgiving dinner.
“Corine really liked English, that’s how we kind of blossomed,” said Laura. “She liked the accent, liked listening to it, she showed a passion for it.”
Corine recently returned to Paris. Laura continues her work with LVA and has a new student. She also attends County College of Morris, tutors grade school children in English, math, history and science and gives trombone lessons. She was a high school jazz band member for four years, after all.
She plans to meet Corine again; this time she’ll be the language student. “She invited me to Paris,” Laura said.
Minhtruc Nguyen came from Vietnam to study in the United States one year ago. She lives with her Vietnamese godparents and their two daughters. Mintruc signed up for the Literacy Volunteer program to expand her vocabulary and to become more fluent. She walks 30 minutes each way to attend her weekly tutoring session.
Mintruc attends Essex Community College with a double major in International Business and Computer Science. She will graduate in the spring of 2015 intending to transfer to a four-year college. This semester Minchu has an internship at her school where she works twelve hours a week. She now has a social security card.
Susan Anderson has been an LVA tutor for 10 years and, in her words, “Every student has been a joy and delight.” Here, she profiles one:
An engineer in her native country, Lisa (not her real name) took a job as a babysitter in New Jersey. She excelled in English, read novels and wrote short essays. But her work had nothing to do with her experience, education and training in her home country. So Lisa and Susan, who has skills in resume writing, worked to polish Lisa’s resume. What came next pleased both.
“She recently got a job doing quality control for a local laboratory,” Susan said. “She is very pleased.” But it wasn’t just the resume; the work Lisa put in with Susan on pronunciation and speaking English helped Lisa gain the confidence needed to apply for and gain employment.
It was the kind of phone call literacy tutors live for. The weekend call came from a student, and it had nothing to do with homework help or canceling a session.
The caller, Nyuma, had just passed her US citizenship exam. “She was so excited,” explained Dr. Lauren Harrison, who tutors a small class of Gambian students, including Nyuma, at the East Orange Public Library. “She’s been studying at least four years.”
Nearly everyone in the class is trying to gain citizenship, Lauren said. Nyuma, her student since 2009, is the first to check the accomplishment on her attendance sheet. “We were both thrilled,” Lauren said.
Tutor: Nora and Nina
Dofi, a student from Togo, is a first year education major at Essex County College. Still she takes time to attend an LVA English Conversation Group class at the East Orange Public Library.
“Even if I’m going to school, it’s a good thing to meet with Nora (Devine) and Nina (Peyser) and improve my English,” Dofi said. “You never stop studying.”