The Next Step

May 28, 2010 at 6:27 PM | Posted in Announcements, Class, Community Partners, ESOL, Family Learning | Comments Off on The Next Step

On May 10, Shelley P. Gustein Principal of Fairfax County Public Schools Transitional ESOL High Schools visited and spoke to students in the Crestwood Family Learning Program. Shelley explained the program to them and encouraged the students to consider this program for their future goals. The students showed a great deal of interest in the opportunity, but realized the degree of commitment required.

The Transitional ESOL High Schools provide beginning ESOL instruction for adults who wish to earn their high school diploma. Students must be residents of Fairfax County, be at least 18 years old, and must not have a high school diploma from their own country. The program is free and has a rolling enrollment. Classes are held in the late afternoons and evenings at the following locations: Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Robert E. Lee High School, and South Lakes High School. In addition to ESOL instruction, students take high school courses such as Algebra and Science. Once students become more proficient in English they may continue pursuing their high school diploma at Woodson, Mountain View, or Bryant Alternative adult schools.

~Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Specialist

LCNV Budget Woes

May 25, 2010 at 2:29 PM | Posted in Finances | Comments Off on LCNV Budget Woes

The budget process – oh, how much fun it is!  I was fortunate enough to be a part of the fiscal planning process for FY 6/30/2011.  The budgeting process isn’t easy.  It’s done by trial and error and much revisiting of revenue and expense accounts.

All the department heads were asked to approximate spending for the next fiscal year.  The input from each department was aggregated to form the total for the expense side of the budget.  Expenses are then compared to revenue.

The revenue side of the budget is comprised of income from fundraising, student fees, government grants, and special event sponsorship.  These broad categories are further broken down into more specific categories.  For example fundraising income is comprised of gifts from individuals, corporations, foundations, churches, and civic groups.  Ideally, the revenue side of the budget will adequately cover our projected expenses.  Sadly, that is never the case.

Round 2 of the budgeting process:  how to trim expenses so that we don’t spend more than we receive.  Not as easy as it sounds.  The next step was to analyze expenses and separate the “needs” from the “wants”.  Since LCNV is interested in improving and expanding our program to better serve our existing students and to serve an ever-increasing number of students, almost every expense falls into the “needs” category.

Finally, after much agonizing, adjusting, tweaking, and sighing, we managed to balance the budget.  We had to postpone spending on some projects, purchasing some much needed computers, improving our library, sending staff to some workshops for training.  But, that’s life in the non-profit world.

Somehow, we never lose hope that next year will be better, and we’ll be able to accomplish all of our goals.  Wouldn’t that be great?

~Randi Littman, Director of Operations

Teaching- A Lesson in Flexibility

May 12, 2010 at 2:41 PM | Posted in ESOL, Teaching, Training, Volunteers | Comments Off on Teaching- A Lesson in Flexibility

Sometimes, we get set in our ways and we feel so confident in our routine, it’s hard to see the possibility of success any other way; Wednesday, April 28th was one of those days where you have to roll with the punches. That Wednesday, the Classroom Program held a Teacher Training for the 2010 Spring session. Many thanks to the many volunteers who signed up and were able to attend! After much planning in the previous days, instead of holding it as a day long Saturday training, we had worked with our volunteer classroom trainer, Adrienne Ward (2008-2009 AmeriCorps), and everything seemed ready for the abbreviated weeknight training. We had supplies and copies, pizza was ordered, and I was ready to set-up the classroom. Unfortunately, Wednesday morning came and we had a reluctant message from Adrienne, she was too under the weather to lead the training. Adrienne, a total workhorse, stubborn to a hilt, was laid out by the hellacious allergy season.

Though Adrienne doesn’t work at the Council anymore, we had organized all the presentation materials through emails and few brief meetings, so everything else was ready, we just needed a trainer. Who could bring the energy and love of the classroom that Adrienne has? Erin Finn, our Classroom Director, stepped up to the plate and led what appeared to be a seamless transition. (We always joke about spinning so many plates it’s crazy!) Crisis averted she spent the day reviewing and tweaking the presentation and Asmait Tewelde (also 2008-2009 AmeriCorps) volunteered to help her throughout the training. The volunteers left engaged, excited for their classroom assignments. The evaluations revealed that the abbreviated format of our training might be a good method to continue to use during both winter and spring sessions when we train less volunteers. The whole training was a total success and a great demonstration of our dynamic staff and volunteers.

Classroom volunteers, we’d love to hear back about how your classes are going and how the training affected your preparedness for class. Please comment ,or if you’d like to write a whole blog, email a piece to

~ Katie Beckman, Program Assistant

The Tutoring Experience at Its Best

May 11, 2010 at 3:57 PM | Posted in ESOL, Tutoring | 2 Comments

Since January 2009, I have partnered with my gracious, easygoing student, Suman, to help her reach her literacy goal: to pass the U.S. citizenship exam. Suman is a native Hindi speaker from India. She has been in this country for about 10 years working as a nanny and supporting several members of her family in her cozy, one-bedroom apartment in Arlington. Since the moment I met Suman in the Arlington Central Library, where we have our fun, yet productive, sessions, I have hoped that she would feel confident and prepared for the exam, which she will take sometime in the next few months. There have been moments when I was quite unsure of what would happen, but the longer we work together, the more I believe that Suman will do well on this most important test.

Suman is able to read English, so when we first began working together, I thought she would sail through her assigned book, Reading for Today book 2. But when I would ask her comprehension questions, it became clear that she was challenged in understanding the material she was reading. When we worked on spelling, I began to realize that she was also less sure of vowel sounds and some basics about phonetics and word formation, namely, that vowels are needed to give words a pronounceable form. I feared that if she lacked these skills, the foundation of her English literacy would be dangerously shaky. Moreover, how would we get through the 100 civics questions on the citizenship test, the dozens of vocabulary words, and practice for the interview if Suman was only guessing at answers and meanings?

After a few months, I sought advice from some of the LCNV experts. I asked whether it would be acceptable to return to Reading for Today book 1 and start from scratch on vowel sounds. The LCNV staff assured me it would be alright, but I did not make the decision unilaterally. I shared my concerns with Suman and the idea of going back to book 1. In Suman’s kind and open-minded fashion, she said it would be fine to try it and that agreed it might help. Back to Book 1 we went. We sorted through the long and short vowels, and practiced using the sounds in various ways. I learned that the small distinctions I hear between the sounds are often imperceptible to a non-native speaker. Though it took several months of weekly meetings, Suman began to gain some traction in her phonetics and sounding out of words. This improvement has supported her gains in reading comprehension.

By the fall of 2009, however, we needed to turn our attention to preparing for the citizenship test. We took out great test prep materials from the LCNV library; on her own, Suman went ahead and bought a copy of each book for herself and her family (her two adult children will be taking the test this spring, too). We are talking about issues that are brand new to Suman, such as the history of U.S. colonies and the workings of the Supreme Court, but she is soldiering on. We have to work a bit faster than we’d like to ensure we touch on all of the material in time, but as usual, Suman is game. She uncomplainingly works hard and does the best she can to make headway with this crazy language.

I’ve talked a lot about our work together. What I haven’t mentioned is how we sometimes laugh riotously in the library when Suman makes an, um, interesting choice in her spelling or understanding. I joke with her about some of these unwittingly funny errors, and she cracks up, too. This often happens when it comes to English words with slight differences in pronunciation that may be difficult for non-native speakers to tease out. One day, I said the word “window” and she thought I said “widow,” which led to a very confusing conversation until we figured out our disconnect. Suman and I also talk a lot about her family and friends, sometimes touching on subjects that are close to her heart. Yet even when we discuss difficult issues, Suman maintains her keen sense of the foolishness of life. She is the kind of person that other people rely on in their time of need, and I can easily see why. I am just happy that I can support a person like this with what she needs. And when she passes that citizenship test, I’m sure we’ll laugh some more and get back to work.

~ Samantha Levine-Finley, LCNV Tutor

Sherwood Visits the Fire Station

May 10, 2010 at 3:07 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Community Partners, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Comments Off on Sherwood Visits the Fire Station

A couple weeks ago, my Sherwood class went on a field trip to Fire Station 9.  The friendly firefighters guided us through the station, showing us the equipment, and one of the firefighters put her gear on for us.  She put her attire on slowly so she could explain each piece, but in a fire situation, she explained, they put on their gear in under one minute.

My students were very impressed with this.  In fact, they were so impressed by all the equipment and strong men and women that they became very shy.  A few were brave enough to ask questions, but most stood in awe; absorbing every word the firefighters were saying.  The firefighters helped the children up onto the drivers’ seat, and let them sound the different sirens.  Before we left the station, we took this picture in front of the fire truck.

The entire visit, I was a little worried my students weren’t enjoying the experience because they were being so quiet, but when we left, they all started chatting excitedly about what they had just experienced.  Most of my students asked me to print the picture we took so that they could show their friends and family.

~Courtney Pergal, AmeriCorps Instructor

Are we having fun, yet?!

May 6, 2010 at 5:37 PM | Posted in ESOL, Family Learning, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Are we having fun, yet?!

Is work supposed to be fun?  I think if you ask a Literacy Council staff member, tutor or teacher if they have fun at their job, the answer would be “yes!”  Not that everyday is easy or that we have picnics and parties all day long.  In fact, most of us work regular ten-hour days.  However, the work is more than just satisfying – it’s fun.

Teachers have the creative freedom to create lessons plan that engage and excite the class.  In a typical adult ESOL class, the learners will be laughing, asking questions, moving around the classroom and enjoying the learning process.  When the teacher can inspire that kind of an environment, the adults will learn more and love learning more.  One-to-one tutoring is much the same.  Our dedicated volunteers who listen to their adult learners and shape the lessons around personal learning goals – goals that engage and inspire their students – share in the joy and enthusiasm of their learner’s success.

Though working in the non-profit sector has its challenges, being in a mission-driven environment where you can see the change you make in person’s life every day is simply a joy.  As I reflect on the month of May, and the spring season of outdoor activities, picnics, long days and all of the opportunities for fun, does work drag me down?  No-spending the day focused on empowering an adult with basic literacy and language skills isn’t really work.  It’s a joy!

~Patricia Donnelly, Executive Director

Mapping Our Future

May 4, 2010 at 12:40 PM | Posted in Board, Development, Strategic Planning | Comments Off on Mapping Our Future

When the LCNV board and senior staff met recently to put the finishing touches on a new organizational road map for the coming years, four things became apparent:

  1. The board and staff agree that LCNV can’t rest on its laurels, no matter how well-deserved.
  2. To ensure that anyone in the northern Virginia community who wants to learn to read English has the opportunity, we must find new corporate and individual friends who will contribute to what will be a growing bottom line.
  3. We know that our teachers and volunteer force provide the backbone for this effort, and we must provide more and better training and staff development for all our staff.
  4. Finally, LCNV is ready to take on a leadership role in the literacy effort nationwide.  Already, LCNV is the 7th largest literary council in the country.  Already, other councils look to us as a model.  It is time for us to step forward in new ways to share what we have learned.

The plans are exciting.  You can find the strategic plan on LCNV’s web-site at   We invite you to join us in the work.  Increase your donation this year or volunteer an extra hour a month or bring a new friend!  But don’t miss this chance to be part of the solution.

~Kitty Porterfield, LCNV Board Member

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