Small Talk

June 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For some, the summer solstice means settling in and settling down, and like many volunteer pools, our number of available Student Assessment Specialists have dwindled while AmeriCorps are spread thin with teaching responsibilities.   Working with teachers and aides to coordinate testing while the other teaches isn’t going to be enough to get by; LCNV is trying to test all of the regularly attending students before current tests expire.  Luckily, we always have a backup plan, with almost everyone on staff trained as testers waiting in the wings. With a little carpooling arranged, I was recruited to test at Lincolnia.

I empathize with volunteers, because I love testing, but at first I’m not always sure how I’ll fit it into my schedule.  Best Testing uses prompted questions to elicit answers that we score based on their understanding of the question, the complexity of the language they use, and how well we understand what they say.  During these dialogues, I get a brief window into a students daily life, opinions, and background.  I do have some favorite questions from the test, especially when we ask about food.  The question is prompted with, “My favorite food is____.  What is your favorite food?”  And I usually say salteñas, a traditional Bolivian empanadas.  With so many Bolivian students at  Lincolnia, they were eager and pleased.  One student said, “This is me, food of my country!” as he beamed proudly.  The dissemination of culture through foods, dances, language, and other practices is such a wonderful way to connect.  I imagine it must help ease their transition to such a different country, too.  Sometimes student answers are shy and brief, but often I hear personal stories from culturally diverse and experienced adults.  I usually work as background support staff, supporting the LCNV programs with less opportunities to plug into direct service.   Frequently, I see my old students and I always have great conversations with whoever I test.

I really enjoy the registration and post-testing seasons because it’s a time to reconnect with the sites and see how the student populations have changed. I never taught at Lincolnia, but over the past several years I’ve seen the group of attending students shift from a mostly Middle Eastern and Central American to predominantly Bolivian and Ethiopian students.  It’s such an interesting demonstration of word of mouth.  These people gathered and settled in the same area over the course of a couple of years and they probably heard about Alexandria through friends or family.  They were referred to our classes through the same method.  It’s wonderful to be part of that kind of organically growing community.  I know in the coming year, there will be some sites transitioning because of tightened budgets like the libraries but the students will still need us for testing, teaching, referrals, and general support.  Remember the LCNV Mission Statement.  I hope you continue to support LCNV students through your volunteerism, philanthropic giving, and by sharing our mission through that oh-so-important word of mouth!

My Volunteering Experience at LCNV

June 23, 2010 at 9:28 PM | Posted in Annual Meeting, Basic Literacy, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment

I started my time with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia in February 2007 as many do, by training to become a tutor in the Basic Literacy Program.  Since that time, I have been assigned three students, and my current student is on his way to becoming a United States citizen.  Tutoring is very gratifying, and I have enjoyed all of my students.

In October 2007, I also began volunteering in the LCNV office.  This is work that I also find gratifying and interesting.  The tasks that are assigned are varied and range from entering data from the tutors’ Quarterly Reports and information on new students and tutors to assisting in the preparation for tutor training sessions.

One of the most interesting tasks that I have been assigned is typing the students’ essays as a part of the publication for the LCNV Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony.  Each year, the theme for the student essay contest differs.  For 2010, the theme was “We Help Each Other.”  The students’ essays were heart warming and instructive, and it was a pleasure to be able to read them all.  Take a look at the latest LCNV report on the 2010 Annual Meeting and you will see what I mean.

The LCNV office is a pleasant place to volunteer, and the staff is very helpful.  If this is the type of volunteer work that you find interesting, I urge you to come in and help out in the LCNV office.  There is a lot of work to do, and I am sure that you will find it a rewarding time.

~Lynn Gallagher, LCNV Volunteer

Staying Afloat

June 22, 2010 at 2:40 PM | Posted in Finances | Leave a comment

In these difficult economic times, finances are a major concern to everybody in the non-profit sector. Recently, I had the good fortune of attending a conference at Booz Allen Hamilton entitled, “Money Matters: Understanding Your Role as a Financial Leader.” There were four panelists who spoke, each with his or her specific area of professional expertise:

Jennifer Pryce, Portfolio Manager of the Calvert Foundation U.S. Investments.  Jennifer spoke to us about the importance of understanding and knowing how to read our financial statements.  She emphasized the importance of keeping our assets liquid; in other words, as close to cash as possible.  She also talked about loans that are extended to non-profits at very low interest rates.

Rick Moyers, Director of Programs of the Meyer Foundation.  Rick spoke to us about what he looks for in a successful grant application.  Surprisingly, you don’t always have to perform within budget guidelines, but there should be a valid reason for the areas in red.

Marti Worshtil, Executive Director of Prince George’s Child Resource Center.  Marti told us the story of how she had to cut her organization’s administrative budget when faced with the economic downturn.  Fortunately, her staff is still with her.  The last category she wanted to cut was programs.

Walter Smith, Executive Director of DC Appleseed Center.  The economic downturn also negatively affected Walter’s organization.  However, instead of cutting expenses, Walter chose to beef up the fundraising effort.  Luckily, his Board members were able to help him with this endeavor.  They staged several fundraising events and enlisted the aid of their friends and colleagues.

It was very interesting to hear the different approaches to keeping organizations running effectively within dire budgetary constraints.  One thing that everybody agreed on:  cutting programs is the last resort.

For the final portion of the conference, we broke up into groups to discuss several stressful scenarios and identify possible solutions.  All of the situations seemed insurmountable, dependent upon financial management leadership.  The resounding theme of the fictional scenarios:  there was never enough money or space; there was always more need for financial oversight and control.  It was a wonderful and thought-provoking exercise to brainstorm with Executive Directors and financial leaders from other non-profit organizations.  We eventually did come up with solutions, but in this ever-changing world, the question I left with was how many were actually viable and for how long?

As we go forward into fiscal year 2011, I hope that our programs can grow beyond the present infrastructure that supports them.  What I witnessed at our recent graduation ceremony is that LCNV can and does change the lives of our immigrant community.

~Randi Littman, Director of Operations

Feng Shui

June 18, 2010 at 5:07 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Lesson Plans, Teaching | 1 Comment

The other night, I walked into my bedroom, turned on the light, and surveyed an abysmal scene.  Books and magazines littered the floor, clothes were draped over every piece of furniture, and empty soda cans hid the surface of my desk.  Mother would have been appalled.  For me, it was business as usual.

I didn’t give a second thought to my lack of organization until I started teaching a unit on housing in my ESOL class.  The lesson began innocently enough.  Initially, we reviewed housing vocabulary, and I asked the students to describe and draw their dream home.  I got everything from a simple two bedroom ranch to cave homes and mansions.  Next, we role-played questions to ask when looking to rent or purchase an apartment or home.

The students did very well with the role-play and even added their own questions, such as if cable and a gym were available.  Lastly, we went over the different rooms of a home and the furniture that would be found in each room.  As we were looking at all of the pictures in the textbooks and magazines, I suddenly came to the realization that I lived in a sty.

Something had to be done.

As I was planning my lesson that afternoon, I stumbled across a book on Feng Shui.  The timing was perfect.  We were studying housing and furniture-why not integrate Feng Shui into part of a lesson?  It would be beneficial to all parties.  So I brought the book to class to show my students pictures of Feng Shui arrangements.  We discussed some space cleansing rituals and even tested one or two of them out, although we didn’t notice a change in the energy of the classroom.  Afterward, I printed off a furniture arrangement template I found online, and I had my students decorate their own apartment using the Feng Shui principles they had just learned.

When the students finished decorating their own apartments, I asked them to walk around and look at their classmates’ arrangements.  This part of the exercise was much more successful that I expected, as some of the students discussed in great detail the things they like about their classmates’ apartments.

Lastly, I had the students choose the apartment that they thought had the best Feng Shui.  Every student picked a different apartment!  The lesson was a lot of fun, and fostered a great discussion among my students.  I’m glad that I was able to turn a random afterthought, stemming from my own inadequate living habits into a successful and engaging activity.  I’m also happy to say that my bedroom is currently in a much more presentable condition!

~Erin Andrews, AmeriCorps Instructor

A Star Pupil

June 17, 2010 at 1:29 PM | Posted in Class, Family Learning, Graduations, Student Stories, Volunteers | Leave a comment

The Family Learning Program completed its spring semester at the end of May and wrapped up the school year with celebratory graduations and bitter-sweet goodbyes.  I had the opportunity to attend three FLP graduations and enjoyed seeing the students celebrate their accomplishments and show their appreciation for their teachers.  Every site does graduation in a slightly different way, but they all have smiling students and delicious international food in common.

Here are some highlights from the graduations I attended:

At Crestwood Elementary School, I enjoyed seeing Mirna and Nancy, the children’s teachers, and the children’s room volunteer Vicki Smith present the parents with portfolios the children created over the course of the semester.  Mirna took great pride in sharing how the children improved their motor skills and emergent literacy skills with the projects.  All of the activities can be easily replicated by parents and children together during the summer.

It was a pleasure to see Sherwood student Laudelina Esperinossa, age 77, interact with all of her classmates and teachers at the graduation.  Laudelina, who is originally from Cuba, qualifies for the program because she is the caregiver for a child’s neighbor.  Laudelina seems to be everyone’s favorite classmate.  She has a wry sense of humor and constantly jokes about her age to those around her.  Laudelina did not allow me to leave the graduation empty handed; she made sure I went home with left-overs of the rice and bean dish she had prepared.  I also went home (at her insistence) with the trivet her pot was resting on.  I tried to decline, but she said it was from the dollar store and she had plenty at home and could easily get another.  There was a brief moment where I thought I might end up with the pot, but fortunately, there was another container available!

Some of you may have read about Maria Marian in the student profile of the newsletter.  Over the last two years Maria attended both Woodlawn and Sherwood and in that time, went from scoring at a level 1 on the Best Plus test to a level 6.  I am happy to report that it was a unanimous decision by her teachers that it was time for her to graduate our program.  Over food and cake at Woodlawn’s graduation, I enjoyed a very meaningful conversation with Maria.  She described the culture shock she experienced when coming to the United States from Romania, much of which stemmed from the differences in food.  She recalled an argument with her husband when he returned from the grocery store with wheat bread that tasted like cake to her.  Small differences, such as this, made for a challenging first year in this country where she felt isolated and felt physically and emotionally different than she had in her own country.  She credited the English classes with building her self esteem and helping her make friends.

These anecdotes are just some of the special moments from our classes; I wish I would have had the opportunity to visit all of the graduations to witness more moments like these.  Thank you to all of the teachers and volunteers for a great year!

~Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Specialist

LCNV Annual Meeting

June 15, 2010 at 5:29 PM | Posted in Announcements, Annual Meeting | Leave a comment

LCNV’s Annual Meeting is 7-9pm this Thursday, June 17th at the James Lee Community Center!  All volunteers and students are invited and welcome to bring their families and friends.  All evening classes on June 17th will be canceled for the meeting.  We hope to see everyone there!

A Job with a Mission

June 14, 2010 at 12:06 PM | Posted in Uncategorized, Volunteers | Leave a comment

It is very difficult to find a job nowadays, but is harder to find a job that can make a difference in people’s lives. After I finished my studies, I immediately started looking for a job.  One of the first calls I received was from Patti Donnelly, the Executive Director of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV).  I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was excited because the mission of LCNV was something that appealed to my interests and nervous because I really wanted to prove to Patti and Randi Littman, Senior Director of Operations, that I could be an asset to LCNV.

During my interview, I explained to Patti and Randi, among other things, that I understood their students because my family has a few members that do not speak English.  I came to the United States very young, and I had to make my way through the Fairfax County English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. I was very fortunate to get a job offer which I happily accepted.

I have been a member of the LCNV staff for about three weeks now, and in that time, I have found it to be incredibly rewarding. While most of my responsibilities at LCNV are administrative, I have had those instances where I have felt like I helped someone. For instance, when I am filling out a profile for a new ESOL student, we always ask why they want to learn English.

Here are some of the answers I have gotten in these past three weeks:

  • I would like to communicate with my daughter’s teachers
  • I do not want to live my life cleaning offices
  • I want to become a U.S. citizen
  • I want to communicate better at work

These are all worth while goals, and LCNV is helping these people achieve those goals.  Most of the students at LCNV understand that there is a long road ahead of them, but they also understand that there is no better time to start learning then today. This type of dedication is invigorating and motivating.

If you ever wanted to be part of a worthwhile organization then you should join LCNV as a volunteer or donate to help our cause. I assure you that if you decide to become a volunteer you will find a great group of people to work with, and if you decide to donate your money will be well spent.

~Jose Flores, Executive Assistant

Homemade Goodies!

June 8, 2010 at 2:19 PM | Posted in Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment

In March, I invited several students over to my house to bake cookies as part of an extracurricular “lesson.”  It went so well that we decided to do it again.  The Korean women (my student and her friend) were here on May 24 for their third cooking lesson.  The first two times we made cookies, including making and decorating gingerbread men and women. Since I believed they were already quite proficient at making cookies, I decided to teach them to make pie crust and pie filling.

They each made two crusts: one for a tomato quiche and the other for an apple pie. They made and baked their tomato quiches during the lesson. They made their apple pie here but took it home to cook it since the lesson had already lasted three hours! Sunny promised to try making an apple pie at home and bring me a piece. She already has brought me an oatmeal cookie she made, adapting one of the recipes she had made during her first lesson. As with the earlier lessons, only English was spoken throughout the lesson. Next time, in July, they want to make lasagna!

~Jan Auerbach, ESOL tutor

Internet Server

June 8, 2010 at 1:24 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Internet server at the Literacy Council was down on June 3 from 8:30 to 10:30am.  We were not able to send or receive any emails during this time.  We apologize for any inconvenience.

Getting Around Town

June 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Leave a comment

The point of most ESOL classes is to equip students with the English skills they need to navigate their immediate environment. Sometimes, coming up with a lesson that directly relates to every student in a class is challenging. However, students tend to be much more engaged when they know that they can take the information from the lesson and use it in their own daily activities right away. The concept of being able to instantly implement a lesson outside of the classroom is one of the main reasons I enjoy teaching the “Places Around Town” unit to my level 1 students. Beyond just teaching the names of community buildings, I also wanted my students to come away from the lesson with another important skill: getting around town. I decided to teach a class about giving and receiving directions.

To set up the activity, I arranged the tables in my classroom (which are small and seat two people apiece) so that they made three rows with a gap down the middle. I taped a sign to a chair to show that the space that ran through the middle of the tables was Main Street. The gaps in between the rows of tables were labeled State Street and Church Street. I wrote the names of different locations on flashcards and placed them on different tables (I would also suggest using pictures so the students have to come up with the English word themselves). Once the room was set up, I explained the activity to the class.

The premise of the activity was that we were a busy class with many things to do that day. I would suggest an activity such as washing clothes or mailing a letter. I asked the students where I could go to do these things, and they would respond with the correct place. Then I would ask for a volunteer to go to the Laundromat or Post Office. The volunteer would be the driver and the rest of the class would be the GPS and provide directions. (I randomly mentioned GPS as an alternative way to explain giving directions and everyone instantly understood the activity. Whatever works, right?)

I wasn’t sure how smoothly the lesson would go over in a level 1 class, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the students were able to pick up on the activity. I ran through an example with my class aide, and my students were soon jumping up to volunteer for the activities that they thought were more fun (someone still has to go to the gas station!). The lesson got the students up on their feet and energized. This is a fun activity that can be adapted for any class level. To make the lesson more difficult, an instructor could add more streets, destinations, or traffic signs (such as the No Right/Left Turn and One Way signs that we see so often in DC!).

~Erin Andrews, AmeriCorps Instructor

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