Class of 2014


Last night my youngest child graduated from High School!  It was one of those life moments I will never forget: seeing my “baby” shake hands with the superintendent and turn her tassel on her mortarboard.  She has learned so much, worked so hard, and now embarks on her next adventures of college and beyond.

The occasion is imprinted in my memory and my heart, yet it was even more special for me in my role as program coordinator here at the Volunteer English Program.  Because seated among the red- and yellow-gowned graduates with my daughter were many children of VEP students and other immigrants.  Those parents cried in the audience along with me as they witnessed the event.

I was impressed by what this graduation must mean to them. Some parents might have had minimal schooling in their native country.  Others who were educated may have left home to offer their family a better life here in the United States. In that moment, watching their first child accept a high school diploma in the United States, part of their dreams must have come true, their sacrifices justified.   I saw their families embracing, shedding tears, and even screaming with delight after the ceremony as they celebrated.

I value this milestone in my motherhood even more as a result.  And I am proud that I live in a community which supports adult ESL education, in which volunteers tutor fellow-parents who want what we all want: to give our children a better life.

Congratulations to the Class of 2014 and to ALL of the parents who helped their children succeed.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, VEP Program Coordinator


How Do I Tutor?

This post was submitted by long-term tutor and VEP Board Member, Fred Crotchfelt.  He currently has two students, one from Colombia and one from China.  In addition, Fred leads the VEP Speakers Bureau.

What I do with my student during sessions? This is a question I am frequently asked when I speak about the Volunteer English Program.  There are many methods to tutor our students. One of the benefits of our one-on-one tutorial model is that we can tailor the training to the individual, as opposed to having to fit one method of teaching to a whole classroom of students, all with different needs.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

In the early stages of my tutor/student relationship we started with the workbooks provided by the VEP office, in addition to general conversation and learning about the person him/herself. It’s really part of the “feeling out” part of the process. That’s the way we tutors find out about our student’s level of competence of English and what the student wants (or needs) to get out of the process.

In my case, both of my students wanted to work beyond the workbooks after a couple of months since it soon became apparent that the real need was conversation . . . to be able to go out in public and communicate in English.

I believe some students stop the tutorial process and leave because they get bored if all they are doing is sitting practicing exercises in a book. The books are important to establish the base learning elements . . . but it’s definitely not all the whole process is about.

So, if we don’t sit and read and do practice exercises from the books, what do we do? How does conversation work and what generates it? After listening to him talk about his weekend and week at work and the politics of our country and his country, the best stimulus is out and around our community. These are some of the things I do with my students:

• Visit his manufacturing plant – I make him explain the how the machinery works, how things get put together, who the customers are, and any other subject which gets him talking in English. I had him introduce me to his boss.
• We have walked around in West Chester and gone to the Exton Mall – we talk about whatever we see or pass.
• We’ll go to eat at a restaurant – he will read the menu to me and he will order by himself
• We’ll take a drive in the car and discuss what we see.
• Both have accompanied me on a speaking engagement.

I’d be interested in learning what other tutors do with their students in addition to the more formal studies through workbooks and in-session tutoring. Let us know! –Fred C.

Editor’s note:  VEP tutors, please join the conversation.   Call Patty at 610-918-8222 if you’d like to share your tutoring experience here on the blog.  Thanks for all you do!

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

New tutors learning to teach adult ESL.

This is always the happiest time of the “cycle” here at VEP.  It is matching time!  After completing one of our three annual tutor training sessions early this month, during which 36 new tutors joined our ranks, now the VEP staff begins an intensive but wonderful period of matching those tutors with eager students.

With 65 adult immigrants on our student waiting list, it doesn’t require a calculator to show you that we are still “in the red”, yet we are grateful to be able to match so many of these waiting students with volunteers to help them learn English.

Everything else the staff does here is in service of this primary function: to match adult immigrants with someone who will teach them the language and assist them in their work, family, community, and education goals.  And we like nothing better than the hour-long appointment here at our office when tutor and student are introduced, led through an initial lesson, and sent off on their own to meet twice a week and start learning!  It is a very special meeting, often quite moving for the pair involved, as well as for the staff member matching them.  As the newly matched pair leaves our office, the relief and gratitude of the student is palpable, all because of the time a stranger in his or her community was willing to give.

Thank you so much to the new tutors.  It is inspiring to see how earnest and enthused you all are.  Thank you to the Kesher Israel Congregation for donating their beautiful and convenient space in which we conduct the training sessions.

Does this inspire you to be a tutor?  Go to our website ( to find more information or to register for the next training session.  Change someone’s life …  and see how it changes yours.

by Patricia Morgioni, Program Coordinator

The Power of Speaking in Front of Groups

by Fred Crotchfelt, VEP Board Member and Tutor

My student Gustavo Castro is from Colombia.

Gustavo Castro and Fred Crotchfelt at the VEP Spring Fundraising Breakfast in June, 2012.

Gustavo, as with many students, was very tentative engaging in conversation when we first met.  For an immigrant, being able to engage in conversation with Americans is very important.  It is a critical part of building their confidence for day-to-day “participation in America”.  As with most immigrants, even those who have a fairly good vocabulary and generally understand English, talking in English to others can be a very frustrating experience.

The confidence students receive through our program by talking to someone (their tutor) who will not judge them or make fun of them or act like they cannot understand them, and who continually gives them positive reinforcement through words and actions, is immeasurable.

BUT . . . when a student is asked, and agrees to, speak in front of a group the confidence level increases exponentially!

That’s why, when I asked Gustavo to speak to a “new tutor” training session about his experiences and he agreed, we were taking a really BIG step to improve his confidence level.  When an international student who is just learning to string words and sentences together is able to speak English in front of a group of people it is very empowering.  It engenders confidence in being able to feel more and more a part of our society.   Gustavo did very well and he has spoken to several different groups.  Typically he is asked . . . and has to respond . . . to questions, and that creates an enriching speaking dialogue.

For many students, there are not opportunities to speak to groups.  As tutors, we should make every attempt to allow our students to speak in front of people and groups.  Working with the VEP Speakers Bureau can give you and your student these opportunities.