Students' Success Stories 2020-21
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!
Little did Serhad know that studying acting in college would pay dividends in his later life. There, at Yildiz University in Istanbul, Serhad studied mechanical engineering to make a living, and acting to make a life.
“We mostly studied pantomime and body language,” Serhad said. These skills laid the groundwork for Serhad to become multilingual. Looking back to his acting classes, he realized that learning a new language was grounded in the Total Physical Response technique that is used widely by many ESOL teachers, including tutors at Literacy Volunteers of America.
The Total Physical Response method, TPR, was created by psychologist Dr. James Asher. Simply put, The Teacher Toolkit defines, “TPR as a method of teaching language or vocabulary concepts by using physical movement to react to verbal input.” Who knew that when we played “Simon Says” as children, our teachers were using TPR?
Serhad’s love for culture opened doors for him to learn different languages and different lifestyles. “Every four or five years we moved to another town because my father was a judge,” Serhad said. “If you are a judge, you are like an officer in the army and move when you are told to move.”
Born in Artvin, Turkey, next to the Georgian border, Serhad has lived in Russia, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain. And, he has become familiar with their cultures and languages.
Among his years on the road, Serhad lived in Siberia for five years and almost 10 years in Moscow. “I like Russian culture. I learned not only an additional language, I also learned another culture,” he said. Serhad moved to Russia in 1994. “That was during a very big change in Russian culture. I saw that money was not so important,” he said. “People were not so concerned about what they would do tomorrow. They lived in the moment.” Serhad saw a lot of theatre in Russia which kept his love for acting and appreciation of the arts alive. “Everything was free,” he said. “To have an arts education, you did not have to pay.”
Serhad moved to the United States in 2018 and settled in New Jersey. Shortly after arriving, he was searching on the internet to find a way to learn yet another language… English. “I saw the Literacy Volunteers of America website and after that went to the Bloomfield Library to register. I wanted to take their intensive in-person classes (Monday – Thursday 2 hours a day) at Berkeley College but the coronavirus hit,” Serhad said.
Jorge Chavez, one of LVA’s student coordinators, was quick to pair Serhad with two tutors, Bob and Lisa, both with different styles. Serhad uses safe social distancing protocol with his teacher Bob, with whom he works outside. “Bob and I meet in person and social distance or we talk on the phone if the weather does not allow us to meet outside,” Serhad said. “Lisa has a topic planned each week and she uses a lot of fun music in our virtual lessons. Both are good tutors. I am so satisfied,” he added.
By the delight in his voice and the confidence he exudes for having established a life or himself, his wife, and two daughters in Montclair, one can tell Serhad is not acting.
Yue was raised in a traditional family in Liaoning, on the shore of the Yellow Sea, the northernmost coastal province of the People's Republic of China.
There, single adult children tend to live with their parents and, once engaged, opt for large traditional weddings, with receptions in restaurants packed with relatives.
But, even as a young woman, Yue knew that was not the life she wanted.
For a while she worked as a waitress in a large hotel restaurant, a busy place with a capacity of 500 diners. She saw little future in that hectic job and, in time, worked her way up to a management position in the hotel.
But after five years of arranging employee schedules and negotiating fees with vendors, she’d had enough. “I wanted to travel,” she said.
Emulating the success of her Chinese sister-in-law, who lived in Europe after studying in France and Germany, Yue applied for and received a student visa to the U.S.
“I wanted to look at the world,” Yue explained. “My mother just said, ‘Oh my God.’”
She moved to the U.S. in 2000 and lived with a friend in Parsippany. In the apartment next door, she met a Chinese national studying for a master’s degree in nuclear physics. In 2002, they were married in a small and quiet ceremony at New York City Hall. Of the two, he’s a little more traditional.
“We cook Chinese food at home, but when we go to a restaurant, I eat steak,” said Yue, who also uses the nickname “Sofia”. “I love Popeye’s chicken. But my husband doesn't like it so I have to sneak out.”
Early on, Yue realized that English was key to a successful life in the states.
She enrolled in ESOL classes at the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood Memorial Library, a joint program run by the library and LVA. She remained there for three sessions. And she signed up for small group classes with LVA tutors.
“At the start, I was scared because I felt my English was still very bad. My teachers were patient and I now feel very comfortable,” said Yue.
“Whenever I send homework, she gets it done,” said Mary Kao, one of Yue’s tutors. “She’s not hesitant to stop me and ask me why is something said a certain way.”
They spend a lot of time on English pronunciation, a sometimes-difficult transition for Mandarin speakers. When the pandemic first made in-person classes risky, their small group, which includes a student from Costa Rica, worked by telephone. Later, they switched to Skype video sessions, Mary said.
Yue earned a teaching degree in China. She doesn’t work in the states but wants to become a hospital volunteer. “I want to help people,” she said.
In 2005, Yue and her husband travelled to China to meet each other’s parents. “We had a traditional Chinese wedding with 400 people and a reception in a restaurant,” she said.
Some traditions never die.
After leaving Jamaica and landing in Jersey, Robert has discovered a new passion... learning literacy.
“When I came to America, I could not sound a letter. I could not write my name,” Robert said. Now, reading new words has become an integral part of his daily routine. Robert’s tutor, “Mr. Will,” as Robert calls him, offers a constant supply of new material for Robert to study.
And study, he does. “When I go to work, anytime I get a break, I study. Since I have started with Will, I hardly sleep,” Robert said. “I try and read whatever I can wherever I go.
Robert spends his days working in housekeeping at a local hospital. He was recently awarded “Best Worker.” Robert’s award came as no surprise to anyone, especially Will. In describing Robert Will said, “Robert’s tenacity and persistence as a student show in the reading progress he has made. Every week when he comes into a tutoring session, he has mastered a new concept or skill.”
A strong work ethic is Robert’s key to his success. Raised in humble surroundings in a farming town in Jamaica, Robert and his 10 siblings did not have the opportunity to attend school. Instead, they worked in the fields picking corn, peas, and bananas. His mother, with children in tow, would then take the crops to the market for sale to the villagers. Looking back at his childhood, Robert has happy memories. “It was special being surrounded by people who loved me.”
In March 2014, Robert had the opportunity to come to live with his sister who had already established residence in the United States. In April of that same year, Robert started work at a restaurant. From there, he went to an interview at his current place of employment and was hired on the spot.
“When I came to the United States,” Robert said, “I could not speak properly. I spoke a broken language.” But that has now changed. “Mr. Will is a good tutor. He is a very, very nice man.” And Will is duly impressed with Robert’s success. “Every week when he comes into a tutoring session, he has mastered a new concept or skill. This progress can only be attributed to his hard work and sincere desire to improve his literacy: he has taken full control of his learning which I fully admire,” Will said. “Robert knows what it means to work hard, both with his literacy work and in his job. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Literacy Volunteers is proud to have Robert as a student and positive role model to others. Robert has been in our program for less than a year. Will said, “The progress that he has made is unbelievable. He is now reading chapter books at a third grade level.”
Barbara, an ESOL student from France, wrote her story as an engaging memoir, which follows and was edited for length.
I was born and grew up close to Paris. The Louvre and the Orsay museum had no secrets for me when I was a child. We bathe in the middle of works of art without realizing it.
My studies took place at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and then at the Sorbonne. I lived in the Quartier Latin and in Montmartre. I spent most of my life in the City of Lights.
I worked as a journalist for the Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde diplomatique which are national newspapers, France Culture radio and also the Capa press agency. Being a woman in a world of men - because the editors are still overwhelmingly male, except in newsrooms like Vogue or Elle - is a real challenge. As women, we must impose ourselves. It’s a real fight!
I mainly wrote articles on international politics, dealing with social issues and environmental issues. You remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? I did a similar investigation. My editor had nicknamed me “Erin”. It was trying, but also very humanly rewarding.
After scanning the banks of the Seine and walking across Paris on all sides, the day I had the opportunity to change scenery, I said yes, right away. Not that Paris bored me, but because discovering other horizons was exciting.
My husband, my daughter and I, first moved to Sydney, Australia. It is difficult to go further. It’s the end of the world! After one year, my husband was transferred to New York. We had three months to get used to the idea of changing country again.
This is my third year in the United States. I had taken language courses in Australia, which allowed me to order coffee, at least. I’m exaggerating, sort of. My English learned in France was pretty basic. Our English teachers are French. This partly explains our disastrous accent.
When I arrived in New York City, everything I saw was familiar to me and at the same time everything was extraordinary: the streets, the taxis, the buildings…The sound universe also: the sirens of firefighters, those of the police, or trains.
Surprised to see white eggs (they are yellow in France), order Chinese food in cardboard boxes like in the movies, cry while looking for cheese and desperately looking for a baguette… It was little things like that. I was amazed by the kindness of the people here. Welcoming neighbors, who say hello, it was very new to me.
What is fascinating is discovering a world city. There are absolutely all nationalities in New York City. My daughter was immediately taken care of by the staff of her school so that she had a good English level.
Unlike France, one can take language courses for free. Without the language, we are alone. Human beings are social animals. We need others. It is essential to speak the language of the country in which we live. I found the LVA program and it saved my life. Abby and Rosalee are my two tutors. I’m gradually learning to speak English better. They are both benevolent, patient and undoubtedly competent. Thanks to my tutors, I hope to resume my job as a journalist.