News & Blog

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January 2018 Schedule of Tutor and Learner-Related Events and Activities

 Tutor Talk: “Unpack your Feedback”

 Tuesday, January 9 at 2:00 pm or Thursday, January 11 at 6:00 pm

The sessions are held at the Literacy Center of West Michigan's office located at 1120 Monroe Avenue NW Suite 240 Grand Rapids, MI. 

January's Tutor Talk will focus on providing written feedback to learners to help them with their writing and communication. As a tutor, you may feel overwhelmed when deciding what to correct and how to provide learners with assistance on their writing. We will talk about the skills that have proven useful for us as well as provide new ideas to help learners with their writing skills. Both sessions will discuss the same topic, but are provided at different times for your convenience. 

To register, or to get more information, contact Thomas Rodgers at (616) 459-5151, ext. 13 or trodgers@literacycenterwm.org


 Conversation Club

GR Main Library:Tuesdays in January-- 16, 23 and 30 from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Kentwood Library: Wednesdays in January-- 17, 24, and 31 from 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Conversation Clubs are a great opportunity for your learner to practice English conversation with other learners of English in a relaxed environment. Topics vary per session, and there is no need to register. You may also attend the Conversation Club to support your learner and others!

For more information about Conversation Clubs contact the Literacy Center of West Michigan at (616) 459-5151, or email info@literacycenterwm.org.


Tutor Orientations

Love your experience? Tell a friend to join us for an orientation! They can register online by clicking their preferred date/time below. Looking for more dates? Check out our event calendar

Thursday, January 4 at 6.00 pm

Friday, January 12 at 10:00 am

Wednesday, January 17 at 10:00 am

Friday, January 26 at 2:00 pm


As always, the Literacy Center staff and your Literacy Coordinator are available to support you with your tutoring. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. 

Take a moment to explore the 10 breakout sessions offered at this year's Community Literacy Summit. Interested in attending this half-day event on January 25? Visit the Community Literacy Summit event page to register today. Space is limited and the event will sell out. 

Alma Bouwens, a learner in the Adult Tutoring Program, wrote this article for the winter 2017 issue of our learner newsletter, The Reader

Now that I know what vacation is, life seems to be a whole lot better. There was a time when I didn’t know whatstrawberry vacation was. My father was Texas born and met my mother on the other side of the Rio Grande in Mexico. So before I was born, my father would bring up immigrants from Texas to pick vegetables and fruit in Michigan. My father married my mother in the United States, so that made her an American citizen. Every year they would travel for miles from state to state working on farms along the way. My father had a semi-truck and could fit all our relatives and friends in the back. When they would tell us stories about their travels, we would laugh and say “you were like Gypsys.”

Rebecca Thak, a learner in the Adult Tutoring Program, wrote the following article for the winter 2017 issue of our learner newsletter, The Reader. 

Hello! My name is Rebecca Thak. I am from South Sudan. I come from a very large family.My mom and dad lived with us. We were very happy. We lived in a small town called Mayiendit with my siblings, my five brothers and four sisters. We walked to school every morning. There was no school bus available. Every day when we came back from school, we read our books and did our homework before sunset, because we had no electricity, we had only lanterns. In 2003, I got married and moved to Kenya, I went to school to improve my English. From there, I found new friends and learned Swahili. I was very excited to learn a different language.

Guest Blogger: Doroty Delli Ficorelli

I’m a mother of two boys and a wife. I moved here from Italy two years ago with my amazing family, my husband Massimo, my two sons, Diego and Marco and my dog Lilly. Doroty copy

I still remember when my husband asked me to move to the US, I had my new house my friends and my job …. I worked two years for Coca Cola Company in Modena and 11 Years for F.R A., a manufacturing company. In both of these companies, I worked in administration. And this company became my second family during the time and for that reason it was a hard decision to leave my job.

Living in the US is a good opportunity for my sons. They are learning a new language and living in a different culture.

At the beginning it was not easy for me, because I didn’t know anybody and my English was really bad.

 The Literacy Center's Annual Community Literacy Summit, Reading by Third Grade: Our Shared Opportunity, Our Shared Responsibility, will be held on Thursday, January 25, 2018 from 7:30 am- 1:00 pm at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center. Tickets are available at www.literacycenterwm.org/summit

Claudio SanchezWhile this may not be a familiar face, it’s likely a familiar voice to anyone who listens to public radio.

Claudio Sanchez, Education Correspondent for NPR, will be joining us as our keynote speaker at the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s Community Literacy Summit on January 25, 2018. The half day event, held at the Eberhard Center in Grand Rapids, will address the topic Reading by Third Grade: Our Shared Opportunity, Our Shared Responsibility. Mr. Sanchez’s keynote will provide a national context for the conversation about grade level reading proficiency.

Guest Blogger: Yuwiska Alcantara-Tagliati

I moved to the US from the Dominican Republic in 2010. At the time I didn’t speak, nor read English; furthermore, itYuwiska was very difficult the first 3 years to understand not only the language, but the system, such as school, transportation, the changes on the weather, doctor appointments, etc.

One day when searching for my English literacy, I went to the public library and they told me about the services that the Literacy Center of West Michigan offer to people who doesn’t speak English. At first I was reticent to believe that the services has no cost. And my surprise was even bigger when I started to receive the service and encounter that this services has an excellent quality.

 The Literacy Center's Eleventh Annual Wine & Words event will be hosted at 333 Fountain Street NE on Wednesday, November 8 from 6-9 pm. Purchase tickets online at www.literacycenterwm.org/wine-words

The lovely Italianate home, located at the corner of Fountain and Prospect in Grand Rapids' Heritage Hill district, House Photo 2was constructed in the 1876 by Norman D. Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter was a partner in Carpenter, Judd & Company, a wholesale and retail dealership specializing in hardware and stoves. He resided in the home until the 1890s when he sold it and moved to Los Angeles.

Guest Post by Mike Nassar, M.Ed.
Director, Community Literacy Initiative

The Literacy Center's Annual Community Literacy Summit, Reading by Third Grade: Our Shared Opportunity, Our Shared Responsibility, will be held on Thursday, January 25, 2018 from 7:30 am- 1:00 pm at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center.

There has been no shortage of debate about the State of Michigan’s recent law on third grade reading. Schools arechild reading currently working to get the word out to families about the law and its implications, while also preparing teachers for upcoming meetings with parents. Improving reading results for children in West Michigan is important to all of us.

This year’s Community Literacy Summit seeks to bring together community members to further discuss and understand the issues and conditions associated with a child reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Do you have something to contribute to the conversation? Our deadline has been extended to October 30 for presentation proposals for our break-out sessions.

Alfonso GuerraIn our March 2015 e-newsletter, we introduced you to Alfonso Guerra, a native of Nicaragua, who came to the United States for better medical care, and took classes from the Literacy Center to improve his English. 

At that time he wrote: "English classes have already impacted me communicatively and comprehending better with my clients and the community. I am feeling more confident. My present and main goals now are to dominate English language, to socialize with the North American community, and looking for more customers. Finally I am happy living in U.S.A."

It was in those classes that Alfonso met Carolina Cnol, a Literacy Center learner who was an attorney and a congresswoman in her native Honduras. The two have dated for the last two years. But their story is bittersweet.

On September 8, Alfonso said goodbye to Carolina and flew from Grand Rapids to Nicaragua. Returning "home," helped by the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers, was his final wish as his prostate cancer advanced. Read more about the story, as told by his team at Spectrum Health Hospice.

Guest Post by Mike Nassar
Director, Community Literacy Initiative

The Literacy Center's Community Literacy Summit will be held on Thursday, Janunary 25, 2018 from 7:30 am- 1:00 pm at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center. 

As many of us have heard by now, third grade reading is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. According to The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, approximately 67% of children nationwide are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. It jumps to 80% for children from families with low incomes. Locally, half of all students in Kent County are not reading proficiently by third grade. For students of color, that number rises to 74%.

These statistics have very real and very significant consequences not only for each of these children, but also for ourParent and child reading community. If left unchecked, these low levels of proficiency will undermine efforts to end intergenerational poverty, close the achievement gap, and reduce high school dropout rates. Far fewer of the next generation will be prepared to participate in higher education and in our growing local economy.

We are pleased to announce the hire of Miguelina Quiñones as the new director of our Family Literacy Program Miguelina Quinones(FLP), a program that strengthens the connection between home and school by addressing the literacy needs of adults in children’s lives.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Miguelina has been a classroom teacher and school administer for 20 years. She earned her B.A. from Herbert H. Lehman College and M.A. from College of New Rochelle, and is certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Q & A with Anna Linder, outgoing AmeriCorps Bilingual Learner Support Advocate. The Literacy Center is currently accepting applications for this AmeriCorps position for the 2017-18 program year. 

1. What first drew you to this AmeriCorps position at the Literacy Center?Anna Lindner

I was referred to AmeriCorps by my mentor at Calvin College, who knows about my passion for racial justice. I chose the Bilingual Learner Support Advocate position because I would be able to speak Spanish and interact with learners, continue my work with data, and be in an academic environment, which would utilize my strengths.

2. What is your favorite part about the position?

I enjoy the relationships/coordinating aspect of my position. I work with instructors to ensure that we have collected all the correct data by delegating and by visiting schools whenever necessary. Our team works together very well, and it’s been satisfying to see everything get done efficiently and effectively.

This post was written by Jamie Lesman, an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Tutor

Chandra came to Grand Rapids with her family in 2012 as a refugee. She was born in Bhutan and had lived in Nepal for many years chandra copybefore coming to West Michigan. I first met Chandra at a South Godwin Head Start open house and we began our language literacy journey together in September.

During our tutoring session, we talk, listen and exchange ideas about each other’s lives, which has a strong impact on both of us. We share motherhood together, experiences of living in other countries, and the ideas of empowering our daughters by showing them what it takes to be a strong and independent woman through literacy. Chandra also volunteers at a local international church to help fellow refugee women as a Nepali interpreter.

 Written by Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English 

Developing a strong community within a classroom is one of the keys to educational success. This is perhaps even moreClassroom celebration important in a classroom of adult English language learners. After all, many of them are new to the country, or feel isolated because of their lack of English skills. In our own classes, we strive to create a sense of community in order to lessen some of that isolation and “otherness” that our learners might experience outside of the Literacy Center.

The Literacy Center offers three levels of classes to English language learners each quarter. The classes, which take place three times a week at our office, are led by instructors who work incredibly hard to not only teach English, but to create connections between learners.

 This article was written by Jisun Lee for The Reader, our learner newsletter. Jisun and her tutor, Elizabeth Zandstra, have been working together since April

imagesI came to Grand Rapids, Michigan last August in 2015 with my husband who studies at Calvin seminary. I have been living in Michigan for over one year.

I was born and grew up in South Korea in North-East Asia. I had never lived in other countries before coming here, so it was a challenge for me to live in the U.S.A. I thought that there would be a language and culture barrier. Moreover my family and some friends of mine were worried that I would feel lonely and it might be stressful moving to a new country. Nevertheless, since I had an interest and curiosity about the culture that I’d never experience, I hope that I could be more mature while experiencing a variety of new things.

I've met many Koreans and Americans here. They’ve helped my husband and me adapt ourselves to this new place. They’ve given us information that we didn't know well at first. Our friends here brought us food, furniture and many warm words. Although most Americans I’ve met personally could not understand what I said, they’ve treated me so kindly and were so friendly.

Also, I've discovered beautiful nature here in Grand Rapids. It is not a complex city so that I can see the high and wide sky. I enjoy very tall and big trees and beautiful Lake Michigan like the Sea. When I went to Lake Michigan for the first time, I was amazed at its size. Whenever I see the landscape, I think that the U.S.A. is a big country.

I've had so many opportunities since I've been in Grand Rapids. If I want to learn English, I can do it. There are lots of programs and volunteers in this community. I want to communicate with others in this society so, I'm learning English.

Although many parts of this culture are different from my country, sometimes it’s a little confusing. I want to learn more about the good traditions and cultures of this country. During this time in Grand Rapids, I’ll enjoy this experience. And I’ll never forget all the people who gladly helped me here. I want to be someone who can understand and help the people in need after I return to my country.

My Learning Story

By: Erica Gonzalez, Learner

Erica Gonzalez and Laurie Emelander w release

My name is Erica Gonzalez and I am forty two years old. I have two daughters. Samantha she is 7 and Camila is 4. When we arrived in this country I did not speak English, and I came to the Literacy Center for help.

Then my history began. Tom the coordinator called me in April to tell me that I had a tutor. I never imagined I could have grown so much in two years.

I visited the Library each week to meet Laurie Emelander my tutor. She is the best person that I had found in my life!

She has been the most patient, comprehensive, encouraging. She always had a positive disposition, and we taught each other about our different cultures. There are no words for how grateful I am to Laurie. Thank you for being a part of my life.

 

My Tutoring Story

By: Laurie Zarzecki Emelander, Tutor

I began working as the Accounting Clerk/Clerical Assistant at the Literacy Center of West Michigan (at that time, the Kent County Literacy Council) in January of 1994. A lot has changed since then. Our organization has grown in every way –budget, space, programs, numbers of individuals served. I am now the Finance Director. Two things have remained the same– our purpose, and the fact that our learners have always achieved great things.

When Wendy Falb became Executive Director in 2014, she encouraged and supported staff members to participate in our mission and become a tutor. I accepted the challenge and completed tutor training in April 2015. I got my first learner, Erica, in May of 2015. Tutoring quickly became the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my week.

Erica is one of the hardest working people I know! She has a continuous thirst for more and more knowledge. I prepared lessons and worked with Erica once a week. Erica did a lot of extra work on her own, constantly challenging herself to speak more English at work, in her daughters’ schools, at the doctor’s office, and many other places. She said at times it was difficult for her but she worked hard and learned more. It was wonderful to hear about each of her new accomplishments. We shared so much more than just English lessons! We shared our culture, holiday traditions, family stories and life experiences.

When Erica and I first met, she asked me if I spoke Spanish; her reaction when I said I did not was “oh, No!” At some point in the middle of our 22 months together I remember her saying, “I’m not afraid to speak English anymore!” And now she has graduated from our program!

I wish Erica all the best in her future and continued studies. She has achieved so much! I hope all of her dreams come true.

I will be helping another learner soon. And I strongly encourage everyone out there to become a volunteer tutor, help someone, and be open to a truly rewarding experience.

 A special thank you to our friends at Art Peers for producing our very first honoree tribute video for our 2017 Spellebration award recipients.

Written by Claira Freeman, AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator

Rylie Eastley is a constant presence at the Literacy Center of West Michigan's Family Activity Nights. These monthly events at Riley with kidsthe child’s school engage the entire family in learning literacy skills together. Once a month for more than a year, Rylie has helped to facilitate literacy activities at these events. More importantly, she has helped to build community with our learners and their families.

In addition to being engaged and present, Rylie is a joyful volunteer. She says that she loves being able to invest her time in a community that has invested so much in her. She has been a part of the Family Literacy Program almost as long as I have, making her dedication to our events even more special to me.

From the beginning, Lee Ann Soodsma went all-in on tutoring with the Literacy Center. She began tutoring three years ago and has taken on not one, but two learners. Lee Ann tutors both Marvin, a father of five, and Audelina, a native Spanish speaker with children.

Lee Ann Soodsma“Tutoring sessions with Lee Ann go far beyond workbooks,” writes Literacy Coordinator Tom Rodgers. As an example, Lee Ann took Marvin to get his library card within the first few sessions of tutoring. She then reported that he brought his whole family to the library again just three days later to visit and check out materials. Several times, she has taken Marvin and his children on field trips around the Greater Grand Rapids area using the Check-It-Out program through the Grand Rapids Public Library. She even reports using a stop for ice cream as a reward for speaking English the entire field trip. Always the advocate, Lee Ann also accompanied Marvin on job interviews, and other important appointments.

In her work with Audelina, Lee Ann has focused on opportunities for her to practice English. Lee Ann encourages Audelina to read with her children, attend local events where she can practice English, and sign up for Spanish classes to improve her reading. In only six months, Audelina’s reading scores increased by two levels and she reports more confidence in identifying words.

Lee Ann often gets asked about her tutoring experience. She shares stories of her learners with pride, and is quick to be an advocate for tutoring. As Tom writes, “she is an integral part to the work that we do and has left an indelible mark on her learners’ lives.”

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