Before I retired, I was an elementary school teacher, then an editor at several magazines. I’ve been a volunteer at PRC for about seven years now. My first tutoring assignment was working one-on-one with a mother who had three little kids. The oldest one had started kindergarten, and she couldn’t communicate with his teacher. We met weekly for a couple of years, and she practiced her English conversation skills.
It would be so hard to live in a country and not be able to speak the language!
One of the things I really like about PRC is that volunteers are appreciated and valued as much as the staff. It’s not a two-tier program. A lot of social service agencies just want volunteers to raise money, not actually do anything. PRC volunteers run everything. Paid staff keeps the records and does the stuff nobody really wants to do. That approach is what’s kept me here all these years. Working with students makes me feel valued.
I’ve worked at the drop-in tutoring, on whatever students needed. For a while, I helped a student study for the GED test. I’ve also coached students preparing for the US citizenship exam. Currently, I assist with a beginning level English Language Learner class sponsored by College of DuPage and held at the PRC.
There are a variety of languages represented in our class. The typical class materials assume people have been to school in their native country and simply need to learn how to read and write things they already know. The instructor realized that a few of the refugees were getting nothing out of the class—most of them had never been to school! Things we assume even young children know, they don’t. Now, the teacher separates these students for part of the class, and I work with them across the hall in the art studio. I often add art activities to the English lesson.
I had a wonderful breakthrough with a student who finally understands what reading is. Not how to read, but the concept that letters make words, and when you put them on paper you can read them back. It took a year. Now I have fun writing down what she says and she can read it back.
One of my students told me his country did not allow music. I can’t imagine that. He decided he needed to learn English when he couldn’t make a gas pump work to fill up his car. Another customer at the station finally told him, there was a sign on the pump that explained it was out of order—but he couldn’t read it.
Everything my students do is ten times more difficult because they don’t know the language…going to the store…the doctor…pumping gas. They can’t get jobs; they have very limited opportunities. One thing I remember teaching was what the logos and signs for stores they might need to go to look like.
We take things like going to school and learning to read for granted. I am very, very grateful that I grew up in this country with all its advantages.