Uplifting Updates

What do our tutors do with their students?  So many potential volunteers wonder whether they could effectively help another individual, especially one struggling to learn English.  But it only takes a heart and a good listening ear.  Our staff supports the approximately 180 tutors who are out in the community, meeting twice per week to teach English to their student.

Each month, our tutors send us an update on progress made and hours spent with their student.  Reading and responding to these reports is my favorite part of my job: hearing about the hurdles cleared, advising or assisting with current obstacles and goals, and marveling at some of the stories.

Following are a few excepts from tutor updates.  Each one reveals the rewards of volunteering in this program, which goes beyond direct language instruction, and on to cultural exchange and friendship.  (Names have been changed.)

One tutor told about his student’s experience during his landscaping job: “Enrique said a woman came out of her house after he had edged her walk and said it looked “great.”  He asked me what “great” meant.  I told him “magnifico.” He was quite pleased to know that….  I made flash cards of the common flowers he will see around the homes of his clients.  He is working to learn the names of those flowers.”  This led to talking about the flowers in singular and plural, practicing “to be” using is and are, and putting the “s” on singular 3rd person verbs (i.e. It blooms.), and writing a dialogue with the student, practicing typical conversations he might have at work with customers and with managers.

Another tutor writes, “Anita and I continue to work on her conversation and pronunciation as well as other things that come up during the course of our meetings.  I helped her understand a form she had to complete for her insurance company. We have also been working together on writing. Anita and her husband took me out to a nice dinner for my birthday. We enjoy being together and have lengthy conversations on many topics.  Sometimes we read articles or look things up on our iPads. Also, she takes some certification courses from time to time that are required in her career and she will highlight the text if she doesn’t understand something, so I can help her with it when we meet.”

And more……

“Lidia’s gear box on the garage was broken .  Also, she had to call school about her son.  We practiced these dialogues, and then I sat with her while she made the phone calls on speaker phone.”

“We have continued to meet and study the book about American culture provided by VEP.  And to practice conversation in other settings, we took a trip to a Korean food store; played tennis; visited an Asian restaurant; went to the movies.”

Some of the reports are poignant, too.  One tutor had been supporting his student over the past year as her aging father struggled with illness.  He helped her communicate about the challenges she faced and to talk to healthcare workers.  His last report read, “Carmen’s dad died a few weeks ago and she is working through her grief.   She is able to share her emotions with me–good stuff–I feel honored!”

“I took Manuela and her son to Marsh Creek today.  It was so relaxing for her.  She kept telling me how great it was, and Marco would tell her he was happy!!!!  It was her first time sitting on a blanket and having a picnic lunch by the water.  The three of us laid on the blanket looking up to the sky and saying what we thought the clouds looked like.  Marco was so cute when we did that.  Just a beautiful day and such a joy for her.  She is such a sweetheart and I love to bring new things in her life.  She gets so stressed with all the health issues with Marco.”

Six brief anecdotes out of the 180 happening twice every week.  Of course, our tutors volunteer because they want to make life in a new country with a new language possible for someone.  Simply, they want to help.  But the reports we receive show the experience is every bit as uplifting to themselves.  Thank you to our dedicated tutors.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, 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!

Appreciating our Tutors and Students

This past October, tutors, students, staff and board of the Volunteer English Program gathered at the Harvest Celebration to recognize the hard work and dedication of our tutors and students.

While the event was an acknowledgment of the dedication of these tutor/student pairs and a forum to recognize some special accomplishments, it was also a smorgasbord of delicious foods from around the world.  Each guest brought a traditional dish from his or her native country to share.  Foods from many countries around the world made for a delicious lunch.  (To see more photographs, please visit our Facebook page!)   As we enjoyed this global buffet, Executive Director Linda Grosse shared the accomplishments of so many individuals with the group, including recognition from State Senator Andrew Dinniman.

Congratulations go out to those we honored at this year’s reception:

  • Our newest citizens, Jihong Korbonits, Ramez Madanat, Josefa Cordero, and Urmi Patel.
  • Office volunteer Christian Mota
  • Speaker’s Bureau member and student, Gustavo Castro
  • The students whose work was printed in the past year: Sonia Afroz (student of Eileen Kennedy); Usha Barkley (student of Laura Gruen); Li Ling Du (student of Elsie Reinmenschneider); Jihong Korbonits (student of Joyce Hurt); Fang Liu (student of Mary Kreutzberger); Pedro Lopez (student of Patty Morgioni)
  • The tutors who have written for our blog this year! (prior to the reception) — Brett Swailes, Pam McGilliam, Ron Hovis
  • A very special thanks and best-wishes were extended to Linda Grosse, who is retiring from VEP after 12 years as Executive Director.  Board member Paul Keogan honored Linda, presented citations from State Senator Dinniman and County Commissioner Kathy Cozzone, and spoke of Linda’s undying dedication and tending of VEP to grow it to its current scope and size.

After the recognition segment, this year’s student speaker, Xiaopeng “Jessica” Ji, spoke to the group about her personal journey with her tutor, Kate Varley.  Jessica’s impressive account of her challenges and experiences learning English with VEP, just one example of the many VEP success stories, was filled with humor, insight, frustration, but ultimately: accomplishment!

Thank you so much to all of the attendees who made this a special day for VEP.  We hope to see you all again at next year’s reception.  Who knows what amazing accomplishments we will all have to share.by Patricia Morgioni, Program Coordinator

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 (www.volunteerenglish.org) 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

“See, Your Guests Approach”

reposted from April 25, 2012, by tutor, Brett Swailes

Recently an interview on NPR featured a “poly-addicted” writer. He was a one-time “dumpster-diver.” He must have recovered, I reasoned. Likely, as not, he will credit some 12-step program, and his higher power to work. As a writer, I like a new wrinkle here and there. Therefore, I was just about to turn the radio off.

Perhaps I should have done so as the unlit road along the river was crowned in the center, and wound its way snugly along one bank. Too many people have gone over the side. So, with its surface strewn with wet leaves, both the road and the radio interview got interesting. I was going too fast. Luckily, I had space ahead to slow down. Sometimes a good story will find me well over the speed limit.

After finally having beaten back the demons, this writer gave the credit to his volunteer efforts. I could scarcely believe it, as he related how first being a soup kitchen helper had started the process of renewing his screwed up life! He whispered that it was the act of giving that had made his life worth living again. How? By taking his mind off his own difficulties.

My student, Shui Zhu, and his family have helped to restore my soul. I had some depression, and had therefore sought out a volunteer effort into which I could pour myself. I had no clue of the effectiveness when I trained to be a VEP tutor, over two years ago, now.

The similarity of expressions in Chinese and English has been so humorous and frequent! For a newcomer to the United States, however, these same points are a blight to those who watch the news in English. However, the growth of the English language gives clear testament to the power of diversity and change.

Each new culture presents their best offerings to their new communities. America truly is the great melting pot—where worldwide cultures meet the resourcefulness, pragmatism, and sometimes the humor of this land of immigrants. First spurred by the American opportunity, let us welcome these newcomers—and from every mountainside, let freedom ring!