Literacy Networking

Robert Hargrove, Tutor for Stillwater Literacy Council

1. Can you share a personal story or experience that has had a significant impact on your commitment to adult literacy?

I have several success stories. Though different in outcomes, all had the effect of changing lives.

The first concerns an Iranian student and her husband who desperately wanted to stay in America, not only for themselves, but as a place to raise their children. The husband already had a temporary position as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University. Though they both had university degrees and proof that they could support themselves, their ultimate goal was citizenship. Toward that end, much of class time was spent time reading American history and government in order for her to prep for the citizenship test. After about a year, her husband received another teaching offer from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Shortly thereafter, I received an email informing me they had both had not only passed their citizenship test, but had been sworn in as new tax-paying citizens.

It reminded me of the story she told me about trying to come to this county and the arduous length of time they had to wait and volumes of paperwork they had to submit to be properly vetted. When the time finally came to meet with the immigration official they were understandably anxious. The stern looking official reviewed their applications, asked questions, looked again at their  applications, then back to them, a routine that seemed to last for an interminable amount of time. Finally, the official stamped their papers and returned them with a smile. “Welcome to United States,” he said.

My student said it was one of the happiest days of her life. I’d like to think achieving citizenship was at least a close second.

The second story is of a Hispanic woman whose parents from Mexico, who spoke no English, came to live with her. Her father was in poor health and required frequent doctor visits. She told me she was quite nervous about taking her father to the doctor because she didn’t completely understand everything the doctor was saying. She was a diligent student and we worked on her vocabulary.

After some time had passed, she began class by reporting that she had just taken her father to the doctor and had understood almost everything he said. It reminded me that we are frequently unaware of how many lives our teaching can touch lives.

A young Vietnamese woman who was a pre-med student told me she wanted to be an ESL instructor because many of the non-English speaking in her community couldn’t understand doctor instructions or understand the pill dosages on their medications. She equated English literacy with the practice of medicine since they’re both in the business of improving and saving lives.

A seventy-eight-year-old man who had been a rural worker all of his life wanted to learn English so he could read to his grandchildren.

2. How do you personally stay motivated and engaged in your work, especially during challenging times?

Each student is different with varied interests. The challenge is to tailor each class to meet their specific needs. Most times I am learning along with them. For example, one student wanted to know about the life of Beethoven. The challenge was to find the material and tailor it to her reading level.

3. Can you describe the specific programs and services your organization offers to support adult learners and promote literacy skills (i.e., ESL, Literacy, Citizenship, HSE, Digital, Health, and how they are delivered, i.e., one-on-one, small groups, classes)?


4. Could you share a specific success story of an adult learner who has gone through your program and achieved significant

A young Chinese woman, whom I shall call Ma, arrived in Houston where her husband had accepted a job with an energy company. At first she was afraid to leave her apartment because of cultural and language differences. Then she heard about the free ESL classes. She was a diligent student and little by little gained enough confidence to get a driver’s license and later a part-time job.

The sponsors of the Adult Literacy/ESL program held an annual appreciation dinner in which an outstanding student was selected from each class. Ma was selected from ours. She made a moving and articulate speech chronicling her ESL journey and concluded by revealing her plans to open her own restaurant. I have no doubt it will be a success.

5. What is your most effective method to recruit new students?


6. How do you keep your current students engaged so that they keep attending classes?

By emphasizing that this is their course, not mine, by practicing English in topics in which they are interested. And by having fun with words such as puns, slang and idioms. Also commiserating with their frustration with the English language, e.g., how can “pupil” mean both a student and that black dot in the middle of the eyeball?  That’s English, folks.

If you haven't yet, please take a few minutes and answer the questions above so that we can add your information. You can answer them as a form here.

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