Class of 2014

graduation

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

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Overcoming Obstacles, Step 2

The Match.  The connotation of “match-making” has always been a little bit magical, from back in the day when aunts and friends would thrust a couple into a lifelong marriage, to the tech-happy internet dating sites in today’s world.  We make a different type of match at the Volunteer English Program, not a romantic one, yet also based on compatibility.  Unlike the old-fashioned match-making, our match begins with a one-hour session to get things off on the right foot, followed by monthly updates, all to encourage success.

beaulieu-yuanAfter we train volunteers from the community to be English tutors, and after students undergo the intake process (see Overcoming Obstacles, Step 1), the VEP staff matches each student with a tutor who has the same time of availability and location.  We choose a tutor who might complement the student’s goals, interests, family structure, or ability level.  The “jigsaw puzzle” of matching available tutors to waiting students is part science, part art, as we attempt to align as many factors as possible for the pair, to promote longevity and compatibility.

And then comes the memorable moment when the two meet here in the VEP office.  Irma Pomales-Connors (VEP Program Director) or I sit with the pair for at least an hour, making introductions, planning lessons and reviewing materials, modeling a tutoring session, and practicing techniques that tutors learned in the Tutor Training Workshop.  The tutor and student leave here with goals and a game-plan.

Both student and tutor are a little bit nervous to meet that first time.  We quickly put everyone at ease, asking some questions, modeling the proper speaking speed to accommodate the student’s level.  The tutor leans in, completely engaged as the student tells of his/her challenges, obstacles, goals, and dreams — and I can see the student’s whole demeanor relax and open up.  Sometimes, the student’s relief is palpable with the realization that a volunteer wants to devote time to help them.  Someone who cares!

We provide books for the student and the tutor, walking through techniques for using them to teach reading, comprehension, writing, speaking and listening.  The tutor practices explaining words and concepts, correcting the student, and leading them through materials.  The two ask each other questions, clarify confusing points, and almost invariably, they laugh together at something for the first time.

After we have set goals, outlined lesson-plans, chosen the bi-weekly meeting place and times, and exchanged contact information, the match appointment is over.  The two will meet on their own somewhere in Chester County now, and we might only see the student occasionally.  The tutor will submit a monthly progress report of hours and activities, but the real magic, the countless moments of understanding, instruction, collaboration, all to open opportunities for that student, will happen without us.  All because of a magical match.

If you would like to experience this new kind of relationship in your life, call us.  We have 72 adult immigrants on the student waiting list; one might be the right student for you.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, Program Coordinator

Overcoming Obstacles, Step 1

The first step is an act of bravery.  It starts with a phone call or a visit to our office.  What we call the “student intake” is the process an adult immigrant goes through to become a student with VEP.

Some people phone the office to ask for help, struggling with the increased communication challenge of the telephone.  We might get three hang-up calls in a row, as the caller summons the nerve to speak.  Our program director, Irma, speaks fluent Spanish, and I know a few words, yet we try first to use English.  We help the speaker of Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Korean, to convey their message, asking them “Do you want to be a student?”  “Do you want to learn English?”  “Come here on Thursday, January five?”

Others just show up at our door, wide-eyed, apologetic, and visibly nervous, because using the phone is too hard.  Many people tell us later, sometimes years later, that the smiling person opening that door gave them courage and hope.  We help immediately if possible, or we write an appointment card and point to the calendar.  photo

Intake.  The word sounds so clinical, but the process is warm and human.  We sit with the man or woman and collect a wide array of information. We give a reading test and obtain a writing sample, if the student is capable.  But more importantly, we listen to the student, who finds a way to tell us their life story.  They open up to us, so desperate for help, when they realize that someone truly hears them and sees them.

Some tell of leaving family behind – parents, brothers and sisters…  One mother came to us, her 3 yr. old daughter in tow, but she said she has three older children.  “They are with my parents…,” she said, and I thought it was fortunate she has a support network here, but she continued, “…in Morocco.”

Many tell of their advanced degrees and education, their jobs as nurses and psychologists, business people and teachers, but here they make a living washing dishes and cutting lawns.  Others, barely literate in their native language, have only a few years of elementary school.  Each has a spark, a belief that speaking English will help them do better.

Others are refugees from war-torn countries, mothers escaping abusive homes, parents who must feed children and provide a path to success for them.   “My mother got me out of the country.  She saved my life,” chokes a woman, now a mother herself.  It is 15 years later, but the pain has not ebbed.

All of them talk about their dreams: to help their children who are in school, to support their aging parents, to become a citizen, to go to college, or just to talk to doctors and be able to shop for survival.

We ask a lot of questions about work life and income, family composition and goals, and by the time the interview is over, we know a lot more than their score on a reading test.  We know another member of our local community, a parent of a child in our schools, a worker at stores we frequent.  They leave our office with a renewed spirit, knowing that someone in the United States, someone in Chester County, Pennsylvania, cares enough to help them.  And that just might propel them through another few weeks until we find them a tutor.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, VEP Program Coordinator

The Year of Maria

the year of maria

Maria’s letter is transcribed below for easier viewing.

Last year, Maria came to our office to ask for a tutor.  She was breathless and nervous, speaking with urgency as she explained that she had “waited long enough” to learn English.  She came from Mexico 16 years ago, she explained, but working full time to support herself and her child had demanded all of her time and energy.  It had always been her dream to improve her English and become a United States citizen, but her life was so busy.  Now she needed help.

After several months on our waiting list (due to our constant need for volunteers), Maria finally came back to our office to meet her tutor.  She couldn’t stop smiling!

This September, Maria’s tutor, Sandy, called to tell us that Maria had become a United States citizen, purchased a new home, and obtained a new job!  Maria wrote us the pictured letter, something she could not have done a year and a half ago.  It is transcribed below.

Congratulations to Maria!  May each year be full of growth and accomplishments.

“The Year of Maria”

“I had a dream to speak English better and become a U.S. citizen.  Three years ago I went to Volunteer English.  I took the test.  No one called.  In January, I called Volunteer English and said, “This is my year!”  I went back and took the test again.  Then Patty called me.  I’m so excited I have a tutor.

“My tutor and I met at a restaurant.  I will remember that day forever.  My tutor told me that “pero” is Spanish, in English I have to say “but.”  Oh boy!  My cheeks were red.  I said “I cannot say this bad word.”  A man at the next table said, “That is a normal word in English.”  We laughed a lot.  Now we meet at the library.  I spoke English with my tutor.  We read funny stories and laughed more.  I was not nervous to speak English any more.

“The librarian told me lawyers would come to the library.  They would help me. The lawyers were so nice to me.  I filled out the application.

“Wait… Wait… Wait… I practiced writing sentences for the citizenship test.  I studied the cards with the questions for the test.

“Finally in August I had my interview with immigration.  I have my dream.  I am U.S. Citizen.”

–Maria

College Trip and a Dream Come True

Vivian, student of VEP tutor Pat Mapps, shares her classic American experience of dropping her child off at college!  Congratulations to Esther and her family.Vivian college trip

Aug. 23, 2013, was the day that changed my family again.

Since we moved to the U.S.A, this four-people family banded together. Our home country is Taiwan, our two kids were born there. 10 years ago, my husband’s job changed, we moved here. Because we didn’t have other family in the U.S.A, so all vacations, special moments, birthdays, graduations and some tough times, we had only our four to share it. After Esther left, life changed.

Williamsburg, Virginia, this place is so colonial. 7 years ago was the first time we visited there. A 6th grade girl, Esther said “I hope someday I can go to this college.” when she saw the college of William and Mary located in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg.  The dream has come true.

After driving for five hours, when we arrived there, it was 2:00 pm. We were lucky to find a Chinese Restaurant for our empty stomachs and probably it was a last Chinese cuisine for Esther before she started to eat in the school’s cafeteria. After lunch, we got her Student ID, the room key and went to the financial office. Nice people and the campus was full of life at my first sight.

My husband’s college mates knew this was not an easy time for us, so they were there for us from New York and Virginia Beach. We stayed at a beautiful family-style hotel in the Williamsburg Visitor Center. We planned a southerner’s dinner for Esther at Shields Tavern. When you go inside, you’ll be seated at a candlelit table and served the dishes from the 18th century. Steven, one of our friends, gave Esther a blue box with a Tiffany necklace. He said ” it’s a tradition that a Godfather gives the blue box when the girl turns 16th.” Even though he is not her Godfather, he knew what a special event this was for her. 

The big day was coming. Early morning, we picked up the stuff from Bed and Bath which we had ordered in PA and headed to school to help Esther settle in for her first year at William & Mary. We saw many welcome signs, “Williamsburg Welcomes W&M Students,” that was exciting. The school was very nice to send many hands to help student and family move into the room. Esther’s room is on the 2nd floor, located across from the bathroom and beside the laundry room. Not big, but it’s enough to hold two girls. Emily, her roommate, is a beautiful Chinese girl who was adopted at 2 years old and grew up in North Carolina.

Orientation was in the William and Mary Memorial Hall, thousands of students and family all gathered to celebrate this new page of a son or daughter’s life. After the ceremony, students and family were split into two groups to attend orientation sessions till night.

For the next two days, we just tried not to think about Esther, instead to have fun with friends in the beautiful town. We walked in the colonial streets and took in the history of the 18th century. We learned how the people during that time made newspapers, how the court worked and how Capital Hall looked. Something that impressed me was the many workers dressed up and walking around. When you asked them to take a picture or said hi to them, they stopped and spoke as if we were living in the 18th century. One afternoon, we had High Tea in a hotel where Britain’s Queen also had the same High Tea. This was a special experience to me- beautiful china, fragrant tea, fine cakes and a lovely atmosphere.

Sunday, before we headed back home, we met Esther again and went to worship together. I was so surprised, she seemed so mature. That moment I was so glad for her, even though I need the time to adjust. But we all know this step will be a big milestone in her life.

Reflecting on a Year of Tutoring

New tutors and students often wonder what the one-to-one tutoring model is really like.  I asked Bev Colestock, tutor, and her student Olga Andrade, a few questions about their relationship.  Bev has been tutoring Olga since May, 2012.

1.  Do you remember your first meeting?  What was it like?  How were you feeling?

Bev and Olga enjoying a tutoring session.

Bev and Olga enjoying a tutoring session.

Bev: I first met Olga in May 2012 at the VEP office. I was a new tutor and she was my first student so I was very excited to meet her. I wasn’t sure how much Olga could understand, so we pretty much spoke through Patty, the program coordinator. I remember I was very nervous because I am not a teacher and wondered if I would actually be able to help this girl. Olga was very sweet and Patty helped get us started by sharing ideas and suggestions from VEP resources. By the time I left that evening, I was feeling more confident and couldn’t wait to meet with Olga again and get to know her.

Olga: I was worried too because I was stuck in traffic and I had an appointment to meet. I was excited, but I was nervous too.  Bev seemed too serious and I didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, Patty was there and she conducted the meeting.

 2. How does that first meeting compare to recent meetings?  How have things improved?  How has your relationship grown?

Bev: Olga and I started out meeting at the Chester County Library in Exton twice a week. Olga and I made a connection right away and are very comfortable with each other. Initially we had a more structured format. We chose stories or news articles to read and discuss. We began making a list of words that Olga had trouble pronouncing and added to it. Many times we would end our meeting with Olga repeating these words over and over. As time went on and we got to know each other better our lessons focused on Olga’s goals at the time: which were writing her resume, moving into a new apartment, explaining something to her car mechanic, etc. Now we meet at my home on Monday & Wednesday evenings and I look forward to her coming. Our relationship has grown from Tutor/Student into a very good friendship that I will always treasure. We spend a lot of time just talking about everything – each other’s families, American and Colombian customs and culture, what we did last weekend, our jobs, etc.

Olga:  Of course we received advice and options from VEP but it was a new experience for both of us as we developed the class. At the beginning we followed a book and as time passed, we worked on my resume, a job interview, appointments, health insurance, etc. I can say I have found in Bev not only a great tutor but also a friend who has helped me to improve my English and feel more confident, and who has helped me and my husband to understand more about this culture and its customs.

 3.  Did something funny ever happen during your tutoring sessions?

Olga: I have always had trouble with my pronunciation. So I remember that many funny situations have been related to my pronunciation. I want to say something but my mouth says something different. However I remember a funny situation where Bev couldn’t stop laughing. It happened when my husband and I moved from Devon to West Chester. I wanted to write in the “Inspection List” that the microwave had a dent but I didn’t know how to write that.  So I used the Google translate and the sentence I wrote was “the microwave has a stroke in the right side”.

Bev:  Olga and I do laugh a lot. I explained why I was laughing and we both ended up laughing about it!

 4.  Olga, what has been the most difficult or challenging part of learning English for you?  How has the one-to-one tutoring model addressed this?

Olga: The most difficult part of learning English has been the pronunciation. Sometimes it seems impossible for me to pronounce a word or make a sound. But at the end after I repeat the word hundreds of times I am able to pronounce it correctly. Of course this always happens with Bev’s help. We have a list with the words that I can’t pronounce easily, so every class we study these words and I have to repeat them many times during the class. Also, Bev always corrects my mistakes while I am talking.

 5.  Bev, what has been your biggest challenge as a tutor?  What surprises did you find along the way?

Bev: Olga has made it very easy for me to be a tutor. She is smart, educated and extremely motivated. I work full time so I was a little concerned about having time to prepare lessons. Lucky for me, Olga is always prepared. She keeps a notebook and writes down questions or phrases that she hears or anything that comes to mind so we can discuss it the next time we meet. Olga is an excellent writer and usually writes a journal about what she did over the weekend. I read it or she reads it to me and that leads into a conversation where she practices her pronunciation. I would say the biggest challenge I have faced is trying to explain why we sometimes say something a certain way in English that doesn’t make sense or is an exception to the rule. My son was taking a Spanish class in college and Olga was helping him one night when she was at my house. What surprised me was she was having the same problem trying to explain to him why things are said a certain way in Spanish, but she didn’t know why.

 6.  Olga, can you measure your growth at all?  What are you able to do now that you couldn’t do before you came to VEP?

Olga: I can say that my English has improved over time. Of course I am aware that I have to continue working on it because it takes time. However, when I began to work with Bev I had some knowledge about grammar, but my biggest problem was when I wanted to talk. I was only able to say some sentences but keeping a conversation was almost impossible for me. Building whole sentences in my mind while I was talking was too hard. Now I am able to keep a conversation, I am able to understand many people (not all of course). Also I am able to follow a movie or a TV program using the subtitles, and I am able to understand the lyrics to some songs and it makes me so happy!

Editor’s note:  If you can see yourself as a student or a tutor with the Volunteer English Program, give us a call at 610-918-8222, or visit us at www.volunteerenglish.org.

 

Taking VEP on the Road

by board member and tutor, Fred Crotchfelt

The best way to connect with our community is to get out into it!  I enjoy being a tutor and a board member for the Volunteer English Program, but another rewarding aspect of my involvement is coordinating our Speaker’s Bureau. Taking our message directly to local businesses, clubs, churches, service organizations and professional groups becomes a perfect opportunity to build relationships.fred at lions

Preferring to “do business” with people we know is part of human nature.  Meeting a goodwill ambassador from VEP, especially a student, and hearing him or her “tell their story”, allows people to “put a face” with VEP. For instance, Jessica Ji, Kate Varley’s student from China, spoke to the International Women’s Club.  Group members, many of whom could personally identify with her story of why she came to America, were so impressed that they invited her to come to a future meeting and even suggested joining their club!  (See the post Jessica wrote on Feb. 6)

Gustavo 1

Gustavo tells his tutor, Fred, about his work.

As another example, Gustavo Castro, my student from Colombia, has spoken to Lions and Rotary Clubs.  In all instances the audience cannot help but admire someone whose dream brought him to America by himself a year before his wife could come and was so lonely at first that he wanted to go back home – but didn’t.

This is VEP!

At each presentation we are represented by a tutor and student . . . and normally a VEP Board member.  The total presentation takes 15 – 25 minutes and also includes some time for the audience to ask questions.

When I speak, as a tutor or Board member, our audience is politely attentive.  When our students are speaking, everyone’s attention is riveted on them.  Their stories are powerful reminders of what our country is made of from the beginning, and people sometimes mention that fact.  I feel like a proud father when I hear the students and see how people respond to them.

On a personal level, these opportunities have also opened a whole new “world” of connections to me.  I have met business people, members and leaders of other not-for-profit organizations, golfers (with whom I have a special affinity) and leaders in our community.  Many of these folks, I continue to see in our community and even to meet or keep in touch with.

There are tangible results that we seek from our presentations:

  • PRIMARY – Recruit volunteer tutors
  • Obtain volunteers for events and projects
  • Inform potential employers about this resource for their employees
  • Let potential students know we are here for them
  • Appeal to individuals for prospective board membership or committee participation
  • Cultivate future sponsorships and other support

YOU CAN HELP VEP!  If you know of an organization, or belong to one, which might be interested in learning about VEP, let me or the VEP office know, and we will follow up.

Fred Crotchfelt,  fredciii@chesco.com,  484-354-0283