Fox Valley Literacy Council indicates that there are more than 12,500 people in Outagamie County who lack basic literacy skills. To combat this alarming statistic, the nonprofit organization provides free, confidential, one-on-one tutoring for adults in basic reading, writing, English Language Learning and Adult Basic English. It also conducts small classes in citizenship and conversation.
Norys Pina, the agency’s volunteer coordinator, said they try to provide students with a holistic experience. Staff members speak Spanish, French and Swahili. They also are in the process of recruiting volunteers who speak Thai and Hmong in order to serve their students better.
“We celebrate our student’s culture, what they are learning and the empowerment to become participants in our community,” she said. “For our students that includes feeling safe, feeling included and represented when they come to our facility.”
The organization, which serves Outagamie, Waupaca, northern Calumet and northern Winnebago counties, assisted 360 students last year. One-half of them were between the ages of 30 and 50. Most students are immigrants. Sixty-five percent are Latino, along with students who are Thai and Hmong. Pina said the refugee population from Africa is growing, primarily from the Congo. They also serve a small population of Arabic students.
Pina noted that literacy is connected to all levels of improvement and getting out of poverty. Children of low-literate parents face a high risk of not being successful in school. Helping an adult learn to read can improve the situation of an entire family.
“Most adult learners seek our help so they can participate in their children’s learning, obtain a GED or HSED, or improve their job skills so they can better support their families,” she said.
Pina pointed out that one person came to their agency not knowing English. She was in English Language Learning, then citizenship and transitioned to the Adult Basic English program. Today, she is in her last year of the culinary program at Fox Valley Technical College.
FVLC follows up with students and reports their progress.
“We assess our students every 30 hours of instruction in order to show progress and to see if there are any delays,” she said. “Based on results, we reassess goals. Our adult education coordinator meets with students to talk about their goals and what they need from us. We always see goals met. That makes us excited.”
Volunteers are at the heart of the Fox Valley Literacy Council. Volunteer Fox Cities helps the agency recruit volunteers through its Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program. RSVP director, Carol Bloemer, said tutoring is a great opportunity for volunteers who want direct contact with those they are serving. In fact, over the last eight years, RSVP members have provided 6,500 hours of tutoring in English Language Learning programs.
“They can directly see the progress made, which is rewarding,” Bloemer said. “It seems that once you start tutoring and understand the need and rewards, you stick with it. All of our tutors are very dedicated to what they do.”
Pina always tells the volunteers when they are training that this is more than tutoring.
“They are going to be building a relationship that is meaningful to both of them,” she said. “We have tutors who have been together for four and five years, depending on the program. It is important to the volunteer to be part of our organization. They feel rewarded with the time they give.”
After volunteers are trained, they can choose from a variety of roles:
Tutors – Volunteers are matched with a student and volunteer 1.5 hours a week. Some tutors work in small groups and facilitate conversation circles, where students come to practice their speaking and conversation skills. Tutors also help students prepare for their citizenship test.
Evaluators – Volunteers with a teaching/reading specialist background assist with student assessments.
Special events – Some volunteers assist with special events. For instance, the agency’s annual picnic was held on Aug. 25. Volunteers greeted attendees, helped with registration and set up the potluck food brought by guests.
Volunteers can also assist with administration, special mailings, computer entry and special projects. Volunteers serve on the board or act as ambassadors to the program by presenting the mission and advocating for the organization at special events, either to recruit new tutors or students or to raise funds.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at FVLC, contact Norys Pina at 920-991-9840 or email@example.com.
DID YOU KNOW?
English Language Learning
Learners in this program are from another country and know little or no English. They may not have had an opportunity to get an education in their home country. On the other hand, they may have advanced degrees but want to learn more English. Many students start with English Language Learning, then transition to Adult Basic English.
Adult Basic Education
Learners in this program are adults who want to improve their reading, writing or math skills, or need help attaining a GED or HSED. They receive one-on-one tutoring. Some people have graduated from high school but still need help learning to read better. Sometimes participants have a learning disability.
3-step training process for volunteers
- Prospective volunteers meet with Pina, who presents volunteer opportunities.
- Volunteers complete a 3-hour online training program. It is presented by Pro Literacy, a national program which talks about the multisensory approach to education, how to work with adult students and the benefits of volunteering in the literacy field.
- Volunteers participate in a 3 1/2-hour classroom session facilitated by Pina. It covers barriers to literacy and how the program helps adults get ahead and out of poverty. They also get a tour of the office and learn how to access resources from the library.
In addition, the agency offers a monthly webinar or an in-service to tutors.