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September 28, 2022

6/14/2012 6:00:00 PM
Local ESL tutor training program is going strong
Jean Berns Jones

Learning the basics of the English language can be an overwhelming challenge for adults who are new to our country, especially if no one steps up to help them.
Thankfully, volunteers in our area are offering to fill this gap through the English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring program. It is jointly sponsored by the Community Connections Free Clinic, Iowa County Literacy Council, Plymouth Congregational UCC Church of Dodgeville, and Grassroots Citizens of Wisconsin.
Currently 30 tutors and over 40 students are meeting together one-on-one to improve English language skills. They often meet in the students' homes or in a local library.
The current students come from all over the world - Tanzania, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Columbia, Peru and many other countries. The tutors also come from a number of different towns - Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Ridgeway, Potosi and Cuba City to name a few. Many report that they find tutoring to be very rewarding.
"Being a tutor has been a richly rewarding experience for me," says Mary Michal, of Barneveld. "I have made new and lasting friends and have had the joy of learning about and sharing in another's rich culture. Being invited to birthdays and baptisms, and sharing in wonderful meals have been part of the experience for me. It may be a cliché, but it's true: Volunteering in this way is a win-win, and we receive at least as much as we give."
The periodic ESL Social Potlucks bring together all of the students, tutors and their families. These gatherings are one of the most popular aspects of the cross cultural experience.
In some of the relationships, tutors have used the opportunity to learn a few words of their "student's" native language, as well. Such is the case with Luis Alvarez from Venezuela who is learning English from Tom Wilson, a native of Dodgeville.
According to Luis' wife, Savana, "The idea is that Luis teaches Tom Spanish and Tom teaches Luis English. I think it's working, because such a special friendship doesn't develop when you are not able to communicate like those two can." Tom has become a close friend of the family.
"The ESL program is an endeavor that wonderful people in our community offer non English speakers - the opportunity to obtain the tools to survive in this country," Savana said. "They are the basics of the English language, the hope of knowing that help is out there in the form of neighbors that are willing to give you their time and effort, their friendship and a hand to make you feel encouraged and welcome."
She and Luis live in Dodgeville with their four children. Savana works in Madison as a bilingual teacher's assistant. She is completing her Wisconsin teaching certification and next year she will teach a 3rd grade dual immersion class (half English/half Spanish) in Madison.
"We live in Dodgeville because we love the community, its people, and our kids love their schools," she said. Carol, the oldest, graduated with honors a few weeks ago at Dodgeville High School. The other children, Eleana, Rebeca, and Luis, all attend school in Dodgeville.
Savana had the advantage of growing up in a multicultural and bilingual home. Her father was from Venezuela and met her mother, who was from Wisconsin, when they were students at the UW-Madison. They married and moved to Venezuela, where Savana was raised. She moved to the U.S. in 1980.
After graduating from West High School in Madison, and from UW-Madison, Savana returned to Venezuela. While living there for 18 years, she married Luis and they raised their family. She also taught school.
In June, 2010, the family felt compelled to leave Venezuela because it has become a dangerous environment, due to the unstable political situation. They moved to Dodgeville where Savana landed a job as a Bilingual Specialist for Lands' End.
While volunteering as an interpreter at Dodgeville's Community Connections Free Clinic, she learned about the tutoring program for English Language learners. Her husband falls into that category, so she called up and asked to have him put on the list for a tutor.
Luis has worked with Tom Wilson for over a year, and "It has helped him, extremely," Savana reported. "His English is improving every day. He is more confident and knows that he is rising to new challenges with a little help from his friends. Tom Wilson has been a blessing to our family."
"Life brings us together to learn from one another, to love and help each other out, and that is what this ESL program does," she added.
For those interested in becoming tutors, there will be ESL tutor training programs in September in Spring Green and Darlington. The ten-hour training will be held in three sessions (time and place to be announced.) Volunteers are being sought in all of these communities. To become a tutor, you do not need to know a second language. The training sessions will teach you to overcome the language barrier.
Following the training, tutors will be assigned to a student. They will meet weekly one-on-one at a mutually agreeable time and location, often in the students' homes.
The trainers include Therese Hess of Mineral Point, who directed a three-county adult literacy program in West Virginia for many years; Kathy Warpinski, the retired Dodgeville High School Spanish teacher who started her career as a volunteer, teaching English to farm workers in a California church hall; and Kathy Korb, who works with the Iowa County Literacy Council, teaching ESL students among other responsibilities.
For further information, contact Grassroots Citizens of Wisconsin, or 603-623-2109.

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