LVKC celebrates 40 years of free literacy training

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The Literacy Volunteers of Kent County (LVKC) program is poised to enter its 40th year of providing free, one-on-one literacy training to English language learners.

As a non-profit organization, LVKC educates Basic Literacy and ESL (English as second language) students using tutors on a volunteer basis and is funded entirely by community grants and donations. This fall, the program’s bi-annual training workshop will once again prepare volunteers to serve in tutor-student pairs, which will target the needs and goals of each individual language learner.

The next 10-hour workshop will begin in September, held at the Coventry Public Library. Anyone at the age of 18 or older can become a tutor by attending the training workshop, which will teach them about the principles of adult education, setting goals for their students, and ways to improve reading, writing, and conversation skills. Workshop dates are September 5 (6-9 pm), 12 (6-9 pm), 19 (6-8 pm) and October 17 (6-8 pm); after completing training, tutors typically commit to spending at least 50 hours working with their students.

Students are adults, or teenagers age 16 and over who are not currently enrolled in a traditional academic program. They qualify for the program if they read at or below a sixth grade reading level (Basic Literacy), or if they speak English as a second language. In addition to learning basic vocabulary, the alphabet and math skills, students are also introduced to American culture and encouraged to build their conversation skills with their tutors. Beyond just being teachers and students, the literacy pairs often form friendships that allow both participants to learn and grow beyond their own cultures.

After an assessment to determine their current literacy level, students are paired with tutors to make progress towards their goals. Being able to fluently read and communicate in English enables ESL learners to complete vital tasks such as scheduling medical appointments, filling out forms for their child’s school, applying for jobs, or working to receive a GED. Recent achievements by students in the program include obtaining a driver’s license, getting a library card, obtaining citizenship, and even applying for and receiving a teacher assistant’s certificate.

Though the program is based in the Coventry Public Library, tutors arrange to meet with students all over Kent County and adhere to each individual’s personal schedule. A conversation group affiliated with the program, “Start Here,” is also run on a volunteer basis, and is held weekly at the Coventry Public Library (Tuesday, 10-11:30 a.m.), and the East Greenwich Free Library (Monday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.). The group covers everything from American customs to typical conversation skills needed to navigate community interactions.

Currently over 50 tutor-student pairs currently exist, but the waiting list always has plenty of prospective students seeking a literacy education.

“Literacy empowers a person,” said Youmi Kim, Program Director of LVKC. Originally from South Korea, Kim speaks English as a second language and has lived in America for five years. She has served as Program Director for two years, starting in June of 2017, and empathizes with the difficulty of transitioning to an entirely new culture.

“I felt greatly empowered when I was being able to work and function as a member of this society, hence I can deeply relate to the challenges our students are facing and their fulfilment from their achievements,” she wrote. “[Volunteers] donate their time, money, expertise, and even a friendship. I’ve witnessed so many great relationships our tutors and students share. Our tutors also expressed that one-on-one tutoring is not only a giving experience; it’s also a great learning experience for them, and they were grateful for it.”

Both tutors and students speak of the program’s benefits in the LVKC’s regular newsletters, praising the depth of the training preparation and the achievements students could make as a direct result of their increased literacy. The May 2019 newsletter includes a story from Stefania B., an immigrant from Sweden who was able to receive her teacher assistant certificate after working with a tutor for two hours a week. Though she knew no English when she arrived in the United States four years ago, after participating in the program, she was able to pass the ParaPro Assessment and can now pursue a career in child education.

As an entirely non-profit organization, LVKC is also searching for local businesses to sponsor the program for the upcoming 40th anniversary year. While the program is mainly supported by volunteers, funding is needed to purchase materials and to pay tutor trainers. Donations are always accepted in order to continue providing educational services free of charge.

Founded in 1980 following a sponsorship from the Coventry Public Library, the LVKC program has trained over 950 tutors and educated over 1300 students. Since becoming Rhode Island’s first affiliate of Literacy Volunteers of America, LVKC has provided free-of-charge literacy education to students from different backgrounds all over the state’s second most populated county.

Those interested in registering to become a tutor, or who wish to enroll in the program, can inquire by phone at 822-9103 or by email at lvkc@coventrylibrary.org.

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