The Importance of Childcare in Family Learning Programs

February 28, 2011 at 4:16 PM | Posted in Class, Family Learning, Student Stories, Teaching, Testing, Volunteers | Comments Off on The Importance of Childcare in Family Learning Programs

The other day I was testing a student at Higher Horizons asking her the usual scripted questions which she was able to answer with the relative ease of an intermediate student.  After the test was finished, although she knew I spoke Spanish, we proceeded to have a conversation in English.  She took great care in composing her sentences as she thanked me for taking the time to test her for the class.  She has two young children and had stopped by at the Higher Horizons Head Start center to see about enrolling her son in the Head Start program.  While she was there she saw a flyer for the Family Learning classes we offer there, picked it up, read it and said, “This is for me.  I am a parent and I need English classes with childcare for my children.”  Her situation is a reminder of the importance of the children’s room component  of our Family Learning Program.  For some of our parents, such our Family Learning classes are the only opportunity they have to study English.

-Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Specialist

The Road to Literacy

February 28, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Student Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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I walked into the library, weighted down with materials, a loosely prepared script running through my mind and butterflies in my stomach.  The weight of my responsibility to help one man learn to read and another man teach was overwhelming.  I was on my way to meet Cleve, a dedicated tutor, and his student of six years, Fred.

Cleve contacted me about two weeks into my new job asking seeking advice on how to help Fred make progress with his reading.  I read their file and had some ‘clinical’ thoughts about how to help Cleve and Fred proceed.  We agreed that I would observe a lesson and then I would give Cleve some ideas afterward.  It sounded simple, but I was intimidated.  Cleve emailed me his detailed lesson plan in advance and after reading it, I felt certain I was not up to this task.  He seemed to already know everything I had planned to tell him.

On my way to the Martha Washington library I found myself playing through various scenarios resembling awkward dinner parties where groups of near strangers attempt to make conversation without offending one another.  Instead, I entered the small room in the library to find three old friends catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

Cleve introduced me first to his student Fred, a gentle giant of a man with a warm smile and easy laugh.  Next I met Fred’s wife Gladys, a beautiful, savvy woman who appeared to have the enviable job of reigning in Cleve and Fred’s boyish humor.  I took an immediate liking to her!  I was instantly and sincerely welcomed into their weekly ritual.  The already well-planned lesson evolved into collaboration among four adults with one common goal: to see Fred reading fluently and independently.

I wish I could say that after some simple tweaking Fred made leaps and bounds of progress in a short time.  However, achieving literacy is a long, sometimes arduous journey, and alas, there is no magic wand.  Instead, that day in the library, we all discussed Fred’s strengths and his challenges, his needs and responsibilities.  Fred shared his insights into his own mind and everyone voiced concerns, frustrations and hopes.  Fred is on a long and winding road to becoming fully literate, but he’s definitely in the driver’s seat with Cleve, his advocate and ally, by his side, holding the map.  I think I can hear them laughing as they enjoy the ride.

-Molly Chilton, Adult Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

BAL Tutor Training Revamp

February 22, 2011 at 10:39 AM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on BAL Tutor Training Revamp
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Like our student services, we’re always trying to improve our volunteer’s experiences, too.   I work to help develop our LCNV trainings for office volunteers, tutors and teachers with the help of our volunteer trainers, program directors and specialists.  I work closest with the BAL training team and pilot most our new ideas with them first.   Over the past few months, we’ve been talking about improvements we’d like to make.

With the help of our new BAL specialist, Molly and a new trainer joining our team, we recently met for lunch and had a really productive and motivating brainstorming session.  We do have a really great training program with a tremendous volunteer staff supporting it (+75 years experience among them), but we always want to make it as good as it can be.  We’re currently working to blend the strengths of our current methods with new content andonline resources.  In the end we’re hoping to promote more engaged, savvy, socially-connected volunteer tutors.

We had a lot of ideas about how to rearrange our training and use online materials other organizations have created to help save us the effort.  Using trainings like Thinkfinity, VALRC, or others may not be tailored exactly to our students but they can lay the groundwork for understanding what and why we teach our students the way we do. I’m so excited about all the opportunities this will allow us to pursue.  With more online, volunteers can reference back to material they need more easily and continue dialogging with their colleagues after training are out of session using  message boards.  We’re hoping to even work to integrate a new mentoring or shadowing program for apprehensive novice tutors!  I hope you’ll share your ideas and if you are a BAL tutor interested in joining the training team, please feel free to email me or call 703-237-0866 x103.

Katie Beckman, Program Assistant

Morning Classes Canceled 2/22/2011

February 22, 2011 at 7:30 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Morning Classes Canceled 2/22/2011

The morning classes today are canceled. This includes classes at the James Lee Community Center and at Connections for Hope.

Health Literacy In-Service

February 18, 2011 at 1:00 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Basic Literacy, Class, Community, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | 2 Comments
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Imagine this scenario: You are in a country in which you do not know any of the languages spoken. You are experiencing severe stomach pain, and you go to the hospital. You cannot understand the doctors, and you struggle to fill out the paperwork you are given by the receptionist. Soon, you find yourself on an operating table. You are given some kind of anesthesia. When you wake up, you have stitches on your lower abdomen, and you are made to understand that something has been removed. You go home without ever having an idea of what YOUR body is now missing.

Kate Singleton related this true story during her Health Literacy In-Service at the James Lee Community Center on February 9. Ms. Singleton, a former ESOL instructor herself, had a student who went to the hospital with stomach pain and had her gallbladder removed without the student realizing what was happening.

As ESL teachers, most of us have come across students who have difficulty receiving adequate health care because of limited English comprehension. In response to this widespread problem, Ms. Singleton, from INOVA Fairfax Hospital, is working through a grant to give health literacy presentations to ESOL speakers. She was kind enough to give this same presentation to LCNV volunteers, staff, and guests. The content of the In-Service included the challenges faced by ESOL learners in finding viable health care options, the effect of lower quality of health care for ESOL community members on society as a whole, and how ESOL teachers can help their students find the health care they need.

Ms. Singleton left the audience with two important take home messages. The first is that everyone has a right to an interpreter at health care facilities that receive federal payments for Medicare and Medicaid. The second is that patients should always ask for a financial counselor. Subsequently, important phrases for students to learn during health units include “I need an interpreter, please” and “I’d like to speak with a financial counselor, please.”

Additionally, Ms. Singleton handed out a practice Medical History Form (which I have already used as a teaching tool in my classes) and a list of Health Care Tips for ESL students. To view the forms simply click on the titles.

Thank you Kate Singleton for your informative presentation!

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please use the “Leave a Comment” feature to post your thoughts.

Kerrin Epstein, AmeriCorps Member and Lead Teacher

This life is beautiful, but very short

February 18, 2011 at 12:54 PM | Posted in ESOL, Favorite, Staff, Student Stories, Teaching | Comments Off on This life is beautiful, but very short
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Who have you seen today?  I hope you exchanged smiles with at least one familiar face.  A family member, friend, coworker, someone you see at your regular stops at the cash register or bus stop.

Today, while in the halls of James Lee Community Center just outside the LCNV office, I ran into Pascual, one of my level 3 students from my teaching days that seem so long ago.  These days, I usually see him in passing as he totters to the Senior Center from the corner bus stop. He is a charming man, proud and intelligent; doing his best to compensate for a stroke that almost paralyzed his right side. He reminds me of a steadfast little tin soldier, always moving forward.  The semester I last taught him, he was going to graduate from our classroom programs. Our scholarship program wasn’t enough for him to afford Fairfax County’s Adult Community Education classes and he didn’t have use of his right hand for writing, so he stopped taking classes with us and has continued to do his best on his own.

Today, he stopped me on my way to the kitchen to define a few words he had scrawled on a paper napkin. He keeps reading, and today it was a Washington Post column on the economy.  He asked me to define “stunted,” “burbs,” and “cottage.”   It was a joy to see the “ah hah” moment pull light into his face as I answered his questions with analogies and gestures.  I miss teaching, I miss that one on one connection, and I miss learning from my students.  As we parted ways, he put on a paternal voice and said, “Thank you so much for everything.  And please remember, life is beautiful, but very very short,” as he pinched his able fingers in front of his face.  I couldn’t help but glance at the other frozen right arm, folded to his chest.  I couldn’t help but admire his constance and compassion.

These are our students.  People with amazing experience, capability and value.  These are people who generally can’t access resources of other educational organizations.  I take great pride in the being part of the LCNV community of partners, staff, and students who make our services possible; it is an amazing privilege.  Please consider volunteering, donating and referring a friend to our programs.  Thank you all and I hope you remember what Pascual said, “Life is beautiful, but very short.”

Katie Beckman, Program Assistant

First Day Forms

February 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Teaching | Comments Off on First Day Forms
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In an attempt to alleviate some of the lengthy registration-day procedures, LCNV changed things up this session so that students only had to fill out one profile form on the day they registered instead of the usual two.   While the two forms that are required of our students, the LCNV profile and the Virginia Department of Education profile still needed to be completed, we decided to save the latter for the first day of class.

The state of Virginia changed their form this year in response to the new way that the federal government is collecting race and ethnicity information.  If you’ve filled out any governmental form recently, you might have noticed that under the race and ethnicity heading there are now two required fields: “Are you Hispanic” (yes or no), and “Check all races that apply” (American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or White).  These questions are very difficult for our Latino students to fill out because everyone must provide a response to both questions (i.e., a Hispanic student would have to check “yes” to Hispanic, and then choose at least one option from among the “race” categories, none of which seems  automatically intuitive to most of them).

To find out more about the new fields on the state form, go to this link:

On the one hand, we wanted to be able to personally guide our students through this confusing new way that racial information is being collected.   We also wanted to make this form part of the first day of class because in general, filling out forms accurately is an English survival skill that should be practiced regularly so that when our students need to take their children to the doctor, apply for a job, or get a library card, they will be able to do so without skipping a beat.

AmeriCorps members created a lesson plan that teachers could use along with the form by adapting it to their students’ levels.  The lesson plan offered suggestions of activities and items to review that go along with each part of the form.  For example, at several places on the form, students needed to write dates (date of birth, today’s date, and registration date), so something that a teacher could review is the U.S. date-writing convention (i.e., month/date/year) because people in other countries write dates in a different order.   Then teachers could have students go around and find a classmate who was born in the same month and introduce him/her to the class.

I did an activity with my class to help give them a visual to go along with the race/ethnicity questions.  I had each student write their name and country on a post-it and then go up to a big world map and stick it on their country.  I explained that students from Central and South America are Hispanic and students from other countries are not.  Then I explained which racial categories students from different countries traditionally identify with.  This activity got students up and moving around, and it was also fun to see the big map of the world with post-its all over the place representing the great diversity of our classes.

-Alicia Nieves, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

Volunteer with the Literacy Council!

February 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Calendar, ESOL, Family Learning, RAFA, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Volunteer with the Literacy Council!
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There are so many ways to volunteer at the Literacy Council!

Here are some ways to start this month: Basic Literacy Tutors: Our next tutor training will take place on February 26, March 5, and March 12 from 9:30 am-1:30 pm each day (there is a $40 fee). Volunteer tutors will help other adults improve their reading and writing skills. Hours are flexible, and a 9-month commitment is required.

Reading: A Family Affair (RAFA) event planners/committee members: RAFA is our annual major special event, taking place on Saturday, March 19th this year. It is a fun-filled and free event open to local families in the community, meant to encourage the joys of reading together and bring books to life. I am looking for volunteers to serve on the Decorations/Setup and Day Of Event committees. Much of this can be done on your own time, with the understanding that it will get busier in the weeks leading up to the event.

Library Liaisons: These volunteers bring flyers to their assigned libraries (1-3 each) to help us advertise our workshops, trainings, and other special events. I am looking for people to take over libraries in McLean, Chantilly, and Vienna.

Office Assistants: Curious about how everything works at the LCNV office? Here’s your chance! I am recruiting dedicated volunteers to come in 1-2 times a week for a few hours to help out with administrative tasks, such as data entry, mailing, folding, filing, making phone calls, and many others. We are flexible – even if you don’t like computers, talking on the phone, etc. – that’s okay! Chances are we’ll be able to find something for you to do.

Please let me know if any of these positions appeal to you!

My e-mail is

-Belle Peñaranda, Director of Volunteers

A Special Thank You to Rosemary Hofford

February 4, 2011 at 3:14 PM | Posted in Uncategorized, Volunteers | Comments Off on A Special Thank You to Rosemary Hofford
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One of LCNV’s Volunteers, Rosemary Hofford, deserves special thanks for the services she’s provided to LCNV over the past several months.  Rosemary, a recent retiree, is a computer programmer with distinguished service in the Federal and private sectors.  Working closely with Wayne Shewmaker, the Director of IT, she has applied her programming skills toward automating several complex LCNV reports. In the process, she has significantly reduced repetitive preparation time while adding consistency to the reports.  She is also helping to develop new reports. We are so fortunate to have someone as skilled and dedicated as Rosemary and we sincerely appreciate her dedication.

-Wayne Shewmaker, Director of Information Technology

The Phone as a Teaching Resource

February 1, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Class, ESOL, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on The Phone as a Teaching Resource
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Many ESOL tutors report how excited they are when their learners phone them for the first time rather than having their English-speaking contacts convey messages for them.  It marks a real milestone regarding students’ self-confidence in speaking English.

The phone also can serve as a valuable teaching resource, especially when it comes to homework. During the ESOL tutor training workshop, we talk about how tutors can use the phone to improve students’ listening comprehension skills.  For example, they can ask their learners to call recorded messages, such as the weather forecast, to obtain a specific piece of assigned information, such as the high temperature for the day.  Alternatively, tutors can request their students to leave them voice-mail messages in order to practice their speaking skills.

Tutors in both the ESOL and Basic programs also can use the phone to improve learners’ reading and writing.  Karen Singer, who wears two hats as an ESOL tutor and a member of the training team, reports that has used this medium for spelling practice by dictating previously learned words on her student’s answering machine for the learner to write.  Quarterly reports have included accounts of tutors successfully using e-mail to carry on written conversations with technologically-savvy students.  Perhaps texting could serve a similar function.  Have any of you tried this with your learners?  If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

-Elise Bruml, Director of Tutoring Programs

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