Thank You for Making 50 Years of Success Happen!

August 29, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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See more GOLDEN REUNION pics on LCNV’s Flickr.

* Photos courtesy of Hernan Vargas and Daniel Afzal

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia would like to thank all of the students, volunteers, and supporters who attended LCNV’s Golden Reunion this past Sunday.  Bringing new and old friends together, the Golden Reunion honored the accomplishments of its students and volunteers. The event was truly a success, and included many highlights!

Every year LCNV holds a student essay contest. The Literacy Council received many essays in response to this year’s student essay contest topic: Celebrating Literacy: My Celebrations, Big and Small. Anxiously, LCNV announced the Student Essay Contest Winners which included: Nasr Youssef (1st Place Basic Literacy Tutoring Student Essay); Janice dos Santos (2nd Place Basic Literacy Tutoring Student Essay); Miriam Rosas (1st Place ESOL Tutoring Student Essay); Ann Choi (2nd Place ESOL Tutoring Student Essay); Huiyan Wang (1st Place Classroom Student Essay); and Elsa Ortiz (2nd Place Classroom Student Essay).  We are incredibly proud of all the winners! Many of the winners were surprised to find that LCNV proudly displayed excerpts from their essays throughout the venue. We’d like to once again, congratulate our winners!

The Council also recognized the Bev­erly M. Newport Memorial Fund and the Virginia Literacy Foundation for their exceptional support of our mission. Without the help of organizations such as these, LCNV would not be able to bring much needed services to individuals who need and want to learn how to read, write, speak, and understand English. We are truly thankful to the Bev­erly M. Newport Memorial Fund and the Virginia Literacy Foundation for their continued support.

A special event highlight included LCNV’s “Decades of Success” panel discussion. Moderated by Laurie Hayden, a teacher and tutor, the panel included: Candelario Chavez, Kerrin Epstein, Doris Gone, Maria Henriquez, Sally Jaggar, Bobby Jo Small, and Bob Stump.  Here, students, teachers, and tutors came together to discuss how LCNV has changed their lives; they commented upon the surprises and challenges they faced, as well as the lessons they learned throughout their experience at LCNV.

The Golden Reunion would not have been possible without the help of the Golden Reunion Committee and the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee. The Literacy Council extends a big thank you to the Golden Reunion Committee: Audrey Lipps, Golden Reunion Committee Chair; Doris Addo; Rena Baker ; Fatima El Amrani; Ruth Hansen; Mary Hollingshead ; Sarah (Sally) Jaggar ; Karen Lezny ; Becca Lipps ; Juana Merlo ; Jessica Raines ; Bobby Joe Small; Anne Spear ; Robin Walker ; Ron Wise ; and Michael Wolff. LCNV extends another big thank you to the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee: Jan Auerbach, 50th Anniversary Events Chair; Elsa Angell; Rena Baker; Avis Black; Rebekah Bundang; Mary Hollingshead; Anne Poad; and Jean Sweeney. The Council would also like to thank Delegate Mark Keam  for attending the Golden Reunion, and showing his support.

Once again, the Literacy Council thanks all of the students, volunteers, and supporters who made the Golden Reunion such a successful and memorable event!

Visit LCNV’s Flickr to see more Golden Reunion pics!

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112


LCNV’s Golden Reunion is this Sunday!

August 23, 2012 at 1:47 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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Please join the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia this Sunday for our

Golden Reunion 

Celebrating 50 years of promoting literacy!

Reconnect with old friends, students, tutors, teachers, and supporters. Hear about the impact the Council has had on the lives of both instructors and learners. Learn how the Council has evolved to support the changing needs of the community. Program begins at 4 PM and will be followed by a reception.

 SUNDAY, AUGUST 26, 2012  │ 4 PM to 7PM

Northern Virginia Community College │ Ernst Community Cultural Center
8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003

Complimentary Program and Reception │ Dress Casual │ Free Parking
RSVP to 703-237-0866 or

Immigration, the DREAM Act, and LCNV

August 22, 2012 at 11:27 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 2 Comments
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Marymount President Matthew Shank (left), Dominique Poirier (center), Staff Attorney at Just Neighbors, and LCNV Executive Director, Patti Donnelly (right),  at Marymount Reston’s Dream Act presentation. Photo courtesy of Marymount University Reston Center

Back in May, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia co-hosted a presentation What the Dream Act Means for Immigrant Families,” with Just Neighbors at Marymount University’s NonProfit Center in Reston, Virginia. Dominique Poirier, Just Neighbors’ immigration attorney, gave a clear and thorough presentation about the federal and Virginia state proposals for the Dream Act, and how this issue influences the real lives of immigrants in our communities and the nonprofits who serve them.

This past June, I attended an informative training on the Obama Administration’s New “Deferred Action” Policy for DREAMers, which was organized by the following institutions: Hogar Immigrant Services – Catholic Charities; Legal Aid Justice Center – Immigrant Advocacy Program; Ayuda; Just Neighbors: Immigration Legal Services; Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect (HACAN/STAR); and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO).

This is the first of a two-part blog LCNV will present in an effort to share the nuts and bolts of U.S. policy as it relates to undocumented immigrants, and describe the potential benefits and challenges of the Deferred Action Policy as it may relate to people in and around the Literacy Council’s community.

BACKGROUND on U.S. Immigration Policy: The Facts Defining Immigrants

Legally, there is no such person as an “illegal immigrant”. People in the U.S. can only fall into one of the following 3 legal terms: “U.S. Citizen”, “Lawful Permanent Resident” (Green Card holder), or “Alien”.  Any person whose presence in the U.S. is undocumented is “unlawfully present”, or an “unlawfully present Alien”. The term “undocumented” can be considered synonymous with unlawfully present.

An “unlawfully present Alien” may have entered the U.S. legally or illegally. Those who entered legally, with a time-bound visa, and remained in the U.S. after their visas expired are considered “overstays”. Such individuals may include tourists, students, diplomats, and nannies, among others. Those who entered the U.S. without inspection are considered to have “Entry without Inspection (EWI)”. Any person who has been in the U.S. “illegally” (overstay or EWI) for over a year and then leaves will be barred from returning to the U.S. for10 years.


The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act is the basic body of America’s immigration law, which prioritizes immigration and naturalization based on employable skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents.

The gross majority (68%) of Green Cards issued by the U.S. are for individuals who are sponsored by a family member who is a lawful permanent resident or citizen.  Only 13% of Green Cards that are issued are employment-based sponsorship.  Less than 20% of Green Cards that are issued are for individuals who fall within unique categories, including self-sponsorship, refugees, asylees, and abused minors.

A person’s sponsorship rights are defined by their status.

U.S. Citizens can petition for their immediate relatives to receive immigrant visas. “Immediate relatives” ONLY include: parents, spouses, and unmarried children who are under the age of 21. Generally, these petitions are processed relatively quickly (within 3-4 years).  U.S. Citizens can also petition for sons and daughters who are over the age of 21, although this process often entails a much longer wait. The wait to sponsor children over the age of 21 can last 7 to 20 years, depending on their marital status and country of origin. The process to sponsor siblings can take even longer – from 12-23 years.

Lawful Permanent Residents can petition for their spouses (a 3-5 year process) or their unmarried children (an 8-11+ year process), depending on their marital status and country of origin. Green Card Holders cannot petition for their parents or siblings.

Unlawfully present Aliens do not have any sponsorship rights. Overstays are the only group of unlawfully present Aliens who might be able to stay in the U.S. legally IF they have an immediate relative sponsoring them.


A brief history and description of the DREAM Act

Undocumented youth who grow up in America and often don’t know of a life anywhere else may graduate from high school and find themselves with no further opportunities. They cannot work or go to college, and especially since the events of 9-11, they cannot even get a driver’s license.*

In the past, the U.S. has granted amnesty to populations of undocumented aliens. The last full amnesty was issued by President Reagan, who granted any unlawfully present alien who has been continuously present in the U.S. since 1982 the right to self-petition for immigration status. Under the Clinton administration, a partial amnesty was issued, granting unlawfully present aliens the right to apply “if they had someone to petition for them” and paid a fine. In 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced and failed. Over the years, the DREAM Act has gone through various iterations, weakening and reducing the eligibility and rights for undocumented youth each time.

If the current iteration of the DREAM Act were to pass, unlawfully present individuals who meet the following qualifications may receive conditional (5 years) permanent residency. These criteria include:

–   “Good moral character”
–    Graduated from U.S. high schools
–    Arrived in the U.S. when they were a minor
–    Lived in the U.S. continuously for at least 5 years prior to the bill’s enactment

If, within that 5-year period, the qualifying individuals attend an institution of higher education or serve in the military, they may qualify for permanent residency and apply for a Green Card.

Current estimates suggest that undocumented alien minors make up about 11% of the unlawfully present aliens in the U.S. Of that total, only 2.1% are estimated to qualify for the conditional permanent residency status. Yet, this meager bill continues to fail in Congress.

Meanwhile, a “pro-immigrant” bill that has recently passed expands medicaid coverage to resident pregnant women (because their children will be U.S.-born citizens). More recently, on June 15th, 2012, in the midst of U.S.’ record high deportation rate, the Obama administration announced that the President would use his executive authority to grant “Deferred Action” status to the class of young adults and minors who would have likely benefitted from the DREAM Act. While this status is not a path to citizenship or permanent residency, it may provide a temporary respite from fear of deportation and education and work opportunities. The next post will elaborate on the details of this Deferred Action Policy.

In spite of these recent steps to improve the situation for undocumented youth in America, a long road lies ahead of our achieving a real DREAM Act!

What can you do to promote the DREAM Act in your neighborhood?

Get involved with local advocacy efforts, like the recent march in Maryland, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants, and Dreamactivist Virginia. It is particularly important to reach those members of Virginia’s Senate who are not already in support of the DREAM Act. Get the message to your representatives that it’s time for DREAMers to have the opportunity of citizenship in the country they already consider their own, despite missing a piece of paper.

*A 1982 Supreme Court Ruling (Plyler v. Doe) decided that children of undocumented aliens can attend public K-12 school, there is no federal law that either prohibits or promises post-secondary education for these children. However, two federal laws make it essentially impossible for undocumented youth to attend post-secondary education. These are the Higher Education Act of 1965, which requires applicants for federal financial aid be legal U.S. residents, and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which states that an unlawfully present alien is not eligible for state residency and is therefore not eligible for any post-secondary education benefit. Eleven states, including Maryland, have gotten around the IIRIRA by redefining “residency” and legalizing in-state tuition for undocumented youth.

Ruba Afzal, Director of Volunteers
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

LCNV Office Closed Today

August 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia’s office will be closed on Thursday, August 16, for a staff retreat. The office will reopen on Friday, August 17, at 9:00 AM.

Don’t forget to join LCNV’s staff, students, and volunteers at the Golden Reunion this August 26, 2012.

Check out LCNV’s new website:  

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Visit LCNV’s New Website!

August 15, 2012 at 12:35 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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LCNV’s website is its core communication platform with its students, volunteers, donors, and corporate and community partners. This past fall, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia decided to revamp and redesign its six-year-old website, aiming to improve communi- cations, and reach even more potential students and supporters. This change couldn’t have come at a more pertinent time – LCNV’s 50th Anniversary. Furthermore, this exciting advancement would not have been possible without the Philip L. Graham Fund.

In the spring, the Philip L. Graham Fund generously awarded the Literacy Council with a grant to redesign its old website, as well as to upgrade its 15-year-old phone system .  After nearly six months of working with Balance Interactive, a website development firm, LCNV is happy to announce it launched its new website on July 25, 2012. The new task-based website is user-friendly and easy for any staff member to manage. While promoting LCNV’s mission, this platform aims to raise public support and awareness. In addition, the website will be a resource for the public — a place where current and potential students can find information, and volunteers and Board members have access to resources and educational tools.

The Literacy Council would like to extend a huge thank you to the Philip L. Graham Fund for their continued support. The new website is fabulous and we hope you agree. Please visit and let us know what you think at

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Check out LCNV’s Summer 2012 Newsletter!

August 13, 2012 at 2:59 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Student Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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LCNV – Setting the Tone for the Future

LCNV had every intention of beginning our 50th Anniversary year on July 1st with a big splash.  Unfortunately, on July 1st, many people were still in the dark because of the storms.  The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia may not have had the big reunion party – yet – but we have started the year with much excitement and positive growth.  We hope to see you for our rescheduled Golden Reunion on Sunday, August 26, from 4 – 7 PM!

The LCNV Board of Directors transitioned in new officers at the July Board meeting, thanking Mary Ann Nocerino for her six years of excellent leadership and service…Read on.

It is always wonderful to receive phone calls or quarterly reports from tutors, announcing that their students have achieved learning goals.  It is especially celebratory when that goal is the special one of obtaining US citizenship.  The first half of 2012 has provided the Literacy Council with many such celebratory moments. We’re happy to report that over a dozen tutoring students passed the citizenship exam and/or were sworn in as citizens during this period.  Each naturalized student undoubtedly came away from the ceremony with his or her own memories of the most meaningful part…Read on to see how citizenship impacts students and their tutors.

DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Philip L. Graham Fund
LCNV’s website is its core communication platform with its students, volunteers, donors, and corporate and community partners. This past fall, the Literacy Council decided to redesign its six-year-old website, aiming to improve communications, and reach even more potential students and supporters… Read more

“This year I will double the amount that I give to the Literacy Council because of the Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credits!” pledged John Odenwelder, Vice President of LCNV’s Board of Directors and Chair of its Fund Development Committee. Learn how you can take advantage of this Virginia State Tax Credit. 

LCNV’s Golden Reunion – August 26, 2012
Reconnect with old friends, students, tutors, teachers, and supporters. Hear about the impact the Council has had on the lives of both instructors and learners. Learn how the Council has evolved to support the changing needs of the community. Find out more…

Race for a Cause – October 14, 2012 
LCNV is partnering with Acumen Solutions for their 4th Annual Race for a Cause™ 8K and 1Mile Fun Run race in Arlington, Virginia. LCNV is one of 10 charities benefiting from the race, and it’s up to the runner or walker to pick which charity their donation will benefit. Find out more… 

LCNV’s programs would not be possible without the help of dedicated volunteers. Please consider helping adults learn to read, write, speak, and understand English. If tutoring or teaching is not for you, we offer many diverse volunteer opportunities.  Learn about Volunteer Opportunities.

DOWNLOAD the PDF – Literacy Lines Summer 2012 Issue

DOWNLOAD the PDF – The Student Special

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year

August 10, 2012 at 2:51 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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I can’t believe today is my last day of my service year here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. Overall, I have had much success and feel I have gained much from this experience. I have gained confidence in myself as a teacher and pride in the work I have done. I would really once again like to thank EVERYONE at the Literacy Council for being wonderful people and doing good work. I feel lucky to have been able to work with this organization for a year. As I move forward in my life, or rather South to Richmond, I can take with me all my new skills and experiences and the knowledge that I have spent one year of my life devoted to helping others. Teaching adult ESOL was such a rewarding experience. I can only hope that I find something equally as rewarding in the future. or maybe I’ll just come back some day.

Setara Habib
Americorps Instructor
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.

August 7, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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I am grateful to AmeriCorps and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia for my exciting and rewarding year as an ESL teacher.  I have nothing but admiration and respect for the dedication and hard work of both the Literacy Council’s staff, volunteers, and students.  I have grown as an educator and as a member of my community through the work I’ve done here.

At the class graduations this summer I told my students that they were my family.  Specifically they were all my parents, only 40 years removed.  They came to America for the same reasons, the same aspirations – something better for themselves and for their children.  My parents were able to own their own house, their own small business, and put two children through college.  And I told them this not to brag about my parents’ successes but to confirm theirs.   All those great Frank Capra American dreams are possible.  I am proud of every one of my students.  I only hope they continue to gain knowledge and confidence as they continue to better themselves.

But if they are my parents then I am their son.  And in that I have to reflect on the question of whether I have been a good one.  I can only say that AmeriCorps has been a reaffirmation that I’m trying.  I want to help others.  I want to do good and take advantage of all the gifts I’ve been given so that I can give back to others.  To that end, when I take my leave of LCNV I will be going back to law school to become a better advocate (in some fashion) of this community.

Everyone at the Literacy Council has been both dedicated and kind.  Although I will not be able to teach in the coming year I have every intention of helping LCNV in its mission.  I sincerely thank the Literacy Council for helping me be a better person.

Raymond K. Chow
Americorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Chuch, Virginia 22042
(703)237-0866 ext. 118

Is My Student Dyslexic?

August 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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“I think my student has Dyslexia.”  This is one of the most frequently heard comments by new and seasoned tutors alike and deserves some attention to help tutors understand a little bit more about reading difficulties and to clarify the role of the tutor at LCNV.   First, the Literacy Council does not diagnose students with learning disabilities and LCNV tutors should not do so either, regardless of their background outside of their tutoring experience.  Dyslexia is a specific neurological disorder falling into the category of general learning disabilities and the term ‘learning disability’ carries numerous clinical, legal and financial implications that are beyond the scope of the Literacy Council.  A tutor’s role is to meet a student where he or she is in his or her reading and writing, and use the various tools available through the Literacy Council to address specific questions and concerns in order to help a student attain specific literacy-related goals

The term Dyslexia literally means word blindness and it was coined by a German ophthalmologist in the late 19th century.  Today it is generally accepted to refer to a severe impairment in the ability to read, which is generally thought to be due to neurological factors.  Nobody ever knows for certain what causes a person’s difficulty reading and writing, and regardless, reading difficulties are not intractable roadblocks to learning.  Treating difficulties empirically can make a big difference and it is essential that a student’s educational history (i.e. no education in a native language) be considered and kept in the forefront of a tutor’s mind.  Still, many tutors are surprised and frustrated by the types of errors their students make while learning to read and write.  Students may confuse similar-looking letters such as b and d, p and q or u and n.  Students may transpose sequences of letters, reading ‘was’ instead of ‘saw’.  It may seem as if a student is incapable of remembering ‘easy’ sight words such as ‘the’, ‘here’, or ‘of’.  Vowel sounds may seem particularly elusive to the adult learner.  All of these may, in fact, be symptoms of a specific learning disability.  Then again, all of these are almost always behaviors typical of new readers.

A new learner, which characterizes all LCNV students, will make errors and learning to read is no small task.  Below are a few common errors that new readers and writers make, and some tips that can help tutors address them.

  • Keep Errors in Perspective – When students make any word reading errors, note them but try not to worry about them more than necessary.  Reading accurately is important but if a word reading error doesn’t interfere with a student’s comprehension then a student may be making some self-correction internally already.
  • Comprehension Check-Up – We can’t always count on a student’s errors not to interfere with comprehension so it is important to be sure that they understand that they have made an error and to be sure that they can paraphrase or summarize the main points of what they have read.
  • Mnemonics – If a student is having trouble discriminating (visually or auditory) between specific letters and/or sounds, teach some memory tricks such as writing the word ‘bed’ to discriminate between b and d, teaching keywords to help recall the correct sounds, or using pictures to cue the correct sound.
  • Discrimination Activities – Create a stack of index cards with the two sounds that are difficult for your student to distinguish, such as short e and i.  Spend the first five minutes of the lesson reading the words aloud to your student and sorting them into piles.
  • Teach Syllables – Blending individual sounds in words is difficult for almost every beginning reader.  Students need to know individual sounds of words but some people chunk different pieces of information together differently, and for some learners separating words into individual sounds is too many pieces of information to hold in memory at once.  Numerous studies demonstrate that people with reading difficulties have weaker phonemic awareness and phonemic memory than people without reading difficulties.  This means they don’t automatically see or hear similarities and differences between words and sounds so these need to be taught directly; the smaller the unit, the harder it is to discriminate and remember.  Giving a larger chunk or a regularly used analogy can be very helpful.  Be prepared to teach things slowly and be sure to incorporate plenty of practice – a weaker phonemic memory means it is harder for a person with reading difficulties to store phonemic (sound) information so they will need continued, intensive practice.
  • Context – Teach your learner to use context while reading.  Adult learners have many coping skills and context can be a lifeline for such a new reader.  Many new and struggling readers come to see reading as a performance and forget that the goal of reading is understanding text, which requires active engagement with text.  Have your student repeat the word they misread and ask, “Does that make sense?”  Give your student a second chance to reread. It is also helpful if you can record the reader and have him/her listen to his/her own reading.  Students need to learn to monitor their own understanding by continuously asking, “Does that make sense?”
  • Appropriate Reading Level – Any time you notice students making many errors, be sure that the level is appropriate.  If a student is struggling with something, you will often notice that skills you thought were secure are now falling apart in application. This is because the learner is attending to too many things at once.  Try the following: shorten the passage length; give the learner a chance to preview the material before reading; or be sure you are reminding the learner of only one or two things to focus on while they read instead of trying to correct all aspects of reading at once.  If none of these suggestions work, simply find easier material.

The Literacy Council trains volunteers to work with beginning readers and writers.  We define a beginning reader as someone reading below a fifth grade level, or someone who is unable to read and understand an English newspaper independently.  When a student with such limited literacy skills is faced with the task of learning to read, confusion is part of the landscape.  Nobody expects tutors to be reading specialists and the initial training provided to all new tutors should only be considered a jumping off point.  If you are struggling to meet your student’s learning needs, do not suffer in silence – reach out to Placement Advisors, staff, and fellow volunteers.  Each learner presents unique challenges and strengths, and an outside observer can provide surprising insight, advice, and peace of mind.

Molly Chilton
Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 104

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