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Senior Corps-RSVP Read to Learn tutors also serve as goodwill ambassadors

2018 February 6
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Most people who volunteer will tell you they get back as much as they give. But the Senior Corps-RSVP members that tutor with Township High School District 214’s Community Education Read to Learn (RTL) program feel they get so much more. For two-and-a-half hours each week, these tutors work one-on-one with students from other nations, helping them to improve their English and adjust to life in the United States. They see it as a chance to show these newcomers the best America has to offer. They find joy in helping their pupils navigate through the complexities of the English language (including American slang.)

Lillian Clinton, right, has been with RTL since 2002 and as an ambassador invites the RTL staff to speak at various functions in an effort to promote awareness of Read to Learn.

Lillian Clinton, a Senior Corps-RSVP member and RTL tutor for nearly sixteen years, says, “We’re building relationships from country to country. That makes me feel good.”

When some students start the class, they may know enough to communicate in simple sentences, but need help in learning who to call in an emergency, ordering from a restaurant menu, or communicating with their neighbors. Others hope to improve their employment situation. Still others want to have an active role in their children’s education.

Previous teaching experience is not a requirement for RTL instructors. Before the start of each semester, all new tutors must attend eight hours of training for one day. Returning tutors are offered two hours of updated training which covers various creative ways in which English can be taught.

During the ten-week fall and spring semesters, volunteers receive a wealth of support from the RTL site managers and staff.

A typical RTL class can start out with announcements from the RTL site manager, who is always on hand to answer questions or address concerns. Tutors and students then work on the students’ goals using handouts that can include worksheets on grammar or stories about American daily life. There’s even a monthly publication titled Easy English News, which highlights and explains current events. Students are given books such as The Wizard of Oz (written in shorter and simply-constructed sentences) and asked to read and write a report weekly on each chapter. They also keep a journal on their activities during the week, which the tutors can use as a subject for discussion, helping the student with any issues they’ve experienced living in the United States. The final half-hour is devoted to group conversation with other tutors and students about anything from celebrating holidays to favorite foods and vacations and more. 

Mike McGinley center volunteers at the Schaumburg Library and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schaumburg and always works with at least two adult learners at a time.

These pupils are dedicated and eager to learn and improve their English. Senior Corps-RSVP member, Mike McGinley, has been with RTL for about twelve years. Mike says, “Some students enjoy classic tales. Others would get more out of a magazine or newspaper. Many of the students enjoy a good cookbook. One student’s goal was to read Danielle Steele novels. Another needed to understand technical manuals.” He especially enjoys communicating with the students and finds they often have insightful perspectives on the world.

Mike said his most inspiring student was a woman whose husband became ill and she needed to learn better English to find a good job.  He helped her write a resume and she found a sales position at Woodfield. Later, she earned a degree from Elgin Community College. 

Bob Kacprowicz has tutored at the Schaumburg Library since 2009 arriving early to help set up so tutors and students feel welcome when they attend class.

Bob Kacprowicz, another ten-year veteran, and Senior Corps-RSVP member, enjoys getting to know the students he works with. “I start out by finding out what they like, also their families…I learned a lot from them, their country, schools, etc. I just like being around people.” 

Some tutors spend additional time with their students outside of class, although that is not required or expected. Lillian usually takes her pupil out socially at the end of a semester. Bob had a student who wanted to learn how to take the train downtown. He met her at the station and showed her how to buy a ticket. They visited the Cultural Center, the Art Institute, and the Chicago Public Library and, Bob said, “Had a great time.” 

Some have formed lifelong friendships with their students even after the students have returned home. Lillian still hears from her first student, who is now back in Japan. “She always sends a lovely gift,” she said. “It warms my heart.” 

Bob’s advice for those considering signing up for RTL: “If you’re thinking about it, forget about thinking, do it! You already know you want to. Try it. You won’t come out the same.” Lillian, Mike and Bob all agree the rewards are well worth the time spent with these newcomers to our country. 

The 2018 Read to Learn sessions are held at various locations including Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Schaumburg, Wheeling and Rolling Meadows. For the upcoming Spring Session, tutors may choose training classes held on Friday, January 26 or Saturday, January 27 at Forest View Educational Center, Arlington Heights. RTL Spring Sessions start early February and continue into April. 

Tutors are still needed for the Spring Session, to volunteer, click on the link: District 214 Community Education Read to Learn Adult Education Family Literacy Program

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