How do we extend English language literacy to those who need it, long after they’ve exited the school system and entered the adult world?
That’s a question that Youmi Kim, Program Director of the Literacy Volunteers of Kent County (LVKC) program, has worked tirelessly to create a solution for. Since taking on the role of director in the summer of 2017, Kim has overseen the training of literacy tutors and the education of ESL students throughout Kent County. With more than 130 pairs of students and volunteer tutors currently involved in the program, she regularly faces the task of creating optimal teacher-student pairs - but for her, that challenge is one of the best parts of the experience.
On Saturday, November 16th, the Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners (RITELL) awarded the title of Adult Practitioner Award of the Year to Youmi Kim. The award cites high levels of commitment and professionalism, as well as going “above and beyond” to assist adult students in the field of literacy.
This award, issued by RITELL’s Adult Education Special Education Group, “recognizes the extraordinary contributions of an individual to the profession, learners, and/or colleagues;”
Kim holds the unique distinction of being the first immigrant to serve as director of the LVKC program, having moved to America from South Korea roughly five years ago.
In addition to a certificate of recognition from RITELL, the award also includes a $250 cash award and a year’s membership to the RITELL organization, according to the program’s website.
“When I witness the impact in students lives when they pass their GED, start classes at the college, obtain their driver's license and citizenship, it gives me a great inspiration to keep pursuing what I'm doing,” wrote Kim regarding the motivation behind her career choice.
Receiving this award recognizes not only the hard work of an individual director, but also recognizes the dedication of the many adults who embark on the often difficult journey of learning English in order to engage more effectively with their communities.
Kim’s grandmother, who lived during the Japanese occupation of South Korea in the 1930’s and 40’s, witnessed attempts by the Japanese government to eradicate the Korean language that often involved violent reinforcement. Watching her grandmother begin to teach herself to read and write in her late 50s, Kim marveled at the process as a young child and realized later in life just how much learning to write must have meant to someone who grew up in a time where literacy education was inaccessible.
“Deeply rooted inside of me resides a deep sense of gratefulness and responsibility to my mother language,” she wrote. “My interest and passion for literacy and education had been naturally cultivated by the people and cultural events throughout my upbringing.”
Just as Kim began the journey to earn her bachelor’s degree, her own mother pursued her dream of enrolling into university. Raised in a culture where education for women was not prioritized, her mother’s decision to enroll in post-secondary education at the age of 50 became a model of hard work and dedication for Kim.
“Her dedication to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degree in her 50s taught me a great lesson, one I’ll cherish forever: never to be afraid to step outside of my comfort zone and learn new things,” she wrote.
“This, indeed, was the motivation for me to dive into the American society even though I was very nervous to meet Americans other than my husband’s family.”
These are just samples from one family of many who have sought to pursue English literacy in adulthood. The power of literacy, in everything from communication to daily life to career ventures, is what LVKC hopes to bring to all those who pursue an education through the program.
Kim is currently working towards a master’s degree in adult education at the University of Rhode Island. She hopes her recognition by RITELL will inspire other adult educators, “especially those from different cultures and backgrounds.”