Why I Like Quarterly Reports

April 28, 2011 at 10:25 AM | Posted in Basic Literacy | 1 Comment

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think lots of tutors don’t like quarterly reports.  After all, who enjoys paperwork?  Or getting reminders about paperwork that is overdue (no matter how friendly those reminders may be)?  I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about generating and editing lists of active matches from the database.  I’m not wild about plodding clumsily through the steps of a mail merge only to realize I just sent the wrong link to over 100 people.  And, what’s worse than having to go through all the mail merge steps again only this time include an apology?  I don’t even want to talk about creating labels for the snail mail set.  But still, I like quarterly reports.

The Basic Literacy program has over 100 actively matched pairs of tutors and students.  When I read the quarterly reports these pairs come to life.  Tutors share their student’s successes as well as their challenges, and sometimes both can be inspiring.  For example, today I read a report that described a student’s incredible network of support from family and friends.  The tutor went on to write that she loves tutoring because she so enjoys her student’s company and now she finds she doesn’t take anything for granted, like being able to read her own mail.

Tutors ask questions, clarify procedures and vent frustrations.  Although nobody needs to wait for a quarterly report to do any of these things, the reports are a terrific opportunity for stopping, taking stock of how things are going and reflecting on the bigger picture.  Tutoring is hard work and sometimes it can be pretty lonely.  As you fill out your report, know that it is being read and appreciated.  The more a tutor shares, the more I am able to understand and help.  Any job can get monotonous, so when I read that a tutor has become an indispensable companion to a student, helping him navigate the politics of his new assisted living facility (and do we have any books that have practical vocabulary for nursing homes?), I am reminded of the incredible range of needs we serve and the inspiring commitment of our tutors.  So, there you have it – quarterly reports – they’re not just paperwork.

-Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

Catastrophe Averted!

April 21, 2011 at 5:03 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Student Stories, Teaching | 1 Comment
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As I was setting up for my classes at the Lincolnia Senior Center, one of my teachers asked me if we were still having class next week.  Since there were no holidays coming up or snow storms predicted, I immediately felt slightly alarmed. Apparently, I had missed the sign on the front door that said the Senior Center was re-paving its parking lot all the following week.

We only had a week before graduation, so we needed to hold class. After brainstorming with several of my co-workers, we decided to move the class to Mark Center Club, a nearby community center. I was anticipating confusion when I announced the change in class location on Thursday, but the students seemed to understand easily. As I repeated the directions for the fifth time, one student gave me a look and said, “It’s ok teacher, we’ll just put it in the computer.”

Despite the students’ apparent understanding, I was a little nervous. A lot of students walk, the directions might have been unclear, everyone had paid for this class and now they were missing two days, it was right before graduation, what if people didn’t know to go the graduation next week etc. But when I got to Mark Center Club there were already two students there. Over the next two hours, the students slowly trickled in. By the end of the class, almost everyone was in attendance.  

Moral of the story: Our students are amazing! They are so determined to learn, they will literally go an extra mile (or two miles), take a new bus, or find a ride just to make sure they don’t miss even one English class. This is why I love my job!

-Kerrin Epstein, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

Dia de los ninos/Dia de los libros

April 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM | Posted in Community, Family Learning | Comments Off on Dia de los ninos/Dia de los libros
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April 30th is national Dia de los ninos/Dia de los libros also known as Children’s Day/Book Day.  Celebrating its 15th year, Dia de los libros annually emphasizes the importance of books in the lives of children.  In 1996, children’s author Pat Mora proposed linking Children’s Day (which began in 1925 and was designated as a day to bring attention to the importance and well-being of children) to children’s books.   The Association for Library Service to Children is the national home of Día and REFORMA The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking is a founding partner.  For more information about the celebration visit the American Library Association’s page.

-Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Specialist  

Dynamic Tutor Trainings

April 20, 2011 at 1:28 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Dynamic Tutor Trainings
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This spring’s ESOL tutor training began last Saturday.  Even though I have participated in over 25 of these workshops since joining the Council’s staff, no two of them are ever the same.  Consequently, the experience never grows old.  For one thing, the substance of the training continues to evolve.  Our training team takes the feedback which participants provide on their evaluation forms very seriously.  They approach the curriculum with the attitude that there is always room for improvement.  As a result, they’re continually tweaking the training in an effort to keep it fresh and make it the best it can be.

The trainees themselves also keep the workshop experience interesting.  Before each workshop begins, I learn a little about the participants from the information they provide on their registration forms, but this is nothing compared to meeting them in person.  What admirable people they generally turn out to be.  They bring such varied backgrounds and life experiences to this volunteer opportunity but are united in their desire to make a real difference in people’s lives.

 In addition, each workshop definitely has its own personality.  It’s always fascinating to observe the group dynamics at work, as well as the chemistry that develops between the trainers and trainees and between the trainees themselves over the three sessions.

 -Elise Bruml, Tutoring Program Director 

LCNV Learners Thank You!

April 15, 2011 at 5:00 AM | Posted in Volunteers | Comments Off on LCNV Learners Thank You!

To our dear volunteers: here are just a few of the adult learners whose lives you touch every day.

Continue Reading LCNV Learners Thank You!…

April 2011 Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Wollenberg

April 14, 2011 at 5:00 AM | Posted in Volunteers | 2 Comments

In Chris Wollenberg’s conversation class one day, a student named Pascual took a napkin out of his pocket with English words written on it.

“What do these words mean?” Pascual asked Chris. It looked like Pascual had jotted the vocabulary words down during a meal at a restaurant, and was curious enough about the words’ meanings to ask his English teacher about them. So goes a typical conversation class with Chris. “Some days, I don’t even get to any part of the lesson that I had planned, because the students have so many questions. It’s okay, though, because they get so much out of it.”

The class meets at the James Lee Community Center every Tuesday and Thursday from 12 to 1 pm, after the Learning Centers classes wrap up for the day. Chris actually started his volunteer stint at the Literacy Council as a class aide (and he is still one). But he also saw the need for an informal, walk-in conversation class at James Lee. He realized that potential students were just hanging out at the community center anyway – so why not offer a class they could attend for free?

Chris has done a fabulous job with the class. He gets an average of 10-15 people each time, and they’re not necessarily students already enrolled in Learning Centers. Many of them have an advanced knowledge of English, and find value in the conversation practice. Some are people who missed the initial Learning Centers enrollment period, but want to start practicing before the next session begins.

It’s no surprise that Chris is such a natural at teaching – he taught for 34 years in public schools (a combination of English, ESL, reading, and history – all grade levels). After spending a huge portion of his life as a teacher, what made him want to come back to volunteer to teach after retirement, when he could do so many other things? “I love teaching,” he replies matter of factly. “I just love helping people. The many thanks that you get from your students – they are all so grateful. That is easily the most rewarding part of this volunteer job.” When he’s not in front of a classroom, Chris is an avid traveler, gardener, and runner.

After talking with him for just a minute, you immediately feel at ease. Chris is just so affable and laid-back – and you can tell that he loves what he does. He gets it! We are fortunate to have him!

LCNV Volunteerism By the Numbers

April 13, 2011 at 5:00 AM | Posted in Volunteers | Comments Off on LCNV Volunteerism By the Numbers

1,558 individuals volunteered at least one hour in the last three years.

556 people have been volunteers for at least one year at LCNV.

395 people have been volunteers for at least three years at LCNV.

230 people have been volunteers for at least five years at LCNV.

69 people have been volunteers for at least ten years at LCNV.

1,024 people volunteered at least one hour in the past fiscal year.

So far, since July 1, 2010, volunteers have completed 29,735 hours of volunteer work.

The 2010 Virginia Average Hourly Value of Volunteer Time is $22.03, which means that volunteers have saved LCNV $655,062.05 so far this year.

LCNV Volunteers: Almost 50 Years Strong!

April 12, 2011 at 5:00 AM | Posted in History, Volunteers | Comments Off on LCNV Volunteers: Almost 50 Years Strong!

Then: LCNV volunteers in 1962

Now: LCNV volunteers in 2011

Volunteers have played a key role in the Literacy Council’s history. In fact, we have volunteers to thank for creating the organization back in 1962, and keeping the organization strong for almost 50 years.

Please click to see a pictorial history of volunteers at LCNV!  Continue Reading LCNV Volunteers: Almost 50 Years Strong!…

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week

April 11, 2011 at 4:45 AM | Posted in Announcements, Volunteers | Comments Off on April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week
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LCNV staff thanks volunteers

It’s National Volunteer Week, and here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, we would like to take a moment to recognize and honor the work that you do.  We don’t say it as often as we’d like, but we hope you know that we value and thrive on your tireless dedication to our adult learners.

In celebration, each day this week, we will feature a different story relating to volunteerism at LCNV here on the blog. We hope you enjoy them. Please check back often!

Again, thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and we hope you continue to do the wonderful work that you’re doing for our community.

Health Literacy in the Classroom

April 7, 2011 at 4:31 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Community, Teaching | Comments Off on Health Literacy in the Classroom
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The United States healthcare system is overwhelming and confusing, even for those who were born in the US and who speak perfect English; now just imagine how you would feel if you were sick and you couldn’t communicate with the people you needed to in order to get better.

For the past couple of weeks, LCNV has had the pleasure of welcoming Kate Singleton of Inova Fairfax Hospitals into our classrooms.  Kate presented student-centered health literacy information at our class sites in Herndon, Lorton, Falls Church, Alexandria, and Springfield.  Kate, a social worker by training, is now working under the auspices of a grant through Inova that allows her to give workshops to ESOL instructors and healthcare providers on how to meet the unique healthcare needs of the immigrant and refugee populations we serve in our classrooms.  Kate is herself a former ESOL instructor, and through her experiences in the classroom, she discovered the great need for informing ESOL students of effective ways of navigating the US healthcare system.   Kate also visits ESOL classrooms and through a wonderful series of multi-level friendly “picture stories” that she developed, she is able to illustrate some very important healthcare concepts that left our students feeling empowered and informed.

First, Kate talked to the students about emergency room visits in the US.   In most cases, ER fees for uninsured patients in the US are thousands of dollars more expensive than what a similar visit would cost in our students’ native countries.  People who are new to the US are unaware of these price differences and may make the costly mistake of going to the emergency room for a minor ailment such as the flu, when it would actually be in their best interests to visit one of the many free or sliding-scale clinics available to uninsured individuals in Northern Virginia.

Another major problem that Kate addressed in her presentations is the issue of uninsured people failing to get treatment when health problems are small due to the costliness of a doctor visit in the US.   If small health problems are left untreated, a once minor issue has the potential of either landing the individual in the emergency room or of becoming a chronic condition, both of which are much more costly, not to mention dangerous, outcomes in the long run.  Kate gave the students a packet of information on free and sliding-scale clinics in the Northern Virginia area, as well as information on facilities that provide mental health services and legal aide, plus lost-cost dental, vision, and hearing options for our students. 

Two of the most important concepts that students walked away with were the following two questions that they now know to ask when they find themselves in need of medical services: “Can I have a translator, please?” and “Can I speak with a financial counselor, please?”  The former refers to a law specifically designated to help people who are uncomfortable using English take control of their circumstances when speaking with the doctor.  If a clinic or a hospital receives federal money, it is required by law to provide translation services to all patients, but the catch is that patients need to know to ask.

The second question refers to situations that many uninsured people find themselves in when they have medical emergencies: having to pay for extremely high emergency room bills.  The students learned that while US emergency room visits can be much higher than in their native countries, they do have some options.  But patients are once again the ones responsible for advocating for themselves and asking to speak with a financial counselor.   A financial counselor can provide one of three options depending on the severity of a patient’s financial circumstances.   Sometimes a discount can help alleviate a portion of the bill, other times a payment plan can spread the bill out over the course of a number of months, or in the most extreme cases a hospital can provide ‘charity’ in which the bill is waived.        

LCNV has been incredibly lucky in establishing a connection with Kate Singleton because as an ESOL teacher, I often find myself in situations with my students where I am one of the only English-speaking people they know and trust.  I am not a doctor or a lawyer or social worker, and I feel incredibly inadequate when I am presented with the very important questions students have that fall very far outside my knowledge base.  During Kate’s presentations at my three class sites, I took a backseat position and was able to watch my students as they listened to and absorbed all of the important information Kate shared that I wouldn’t have been able to give them.  Thank you so much, Kate!

-Alicia Nieves, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

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