Kewaunee Co. literacy group helps with more than just language skills, needs tutors
KEWAUNEE – It might be common to think that literacy classes or English as a Second Language training for adults is just about learning to speak and read in America.
The volunteers with Literacy Partners of Kewaunee County would say their group offers much, much more.
The group's main objective, of course, is to improve the literacy skills of adults in Kewaunee County who feel they need help. But along the way, the group also has helped immigrants become U.S. citizens; helped others earn GEDs, driver's licenses, commercial driver's licenses and other important certifications; and generally improve the quality of their students' lives.
Literacy Partners is gearing up for its fall season and needs volunteer tutors, saying it has about 20 adults waiting to be paired with tutors. The group is holding an informational meeting about tutoring Monday night, with training sessions for those who want to tutor held the following three Mondays. Teaching experience is not required to volunteer.
For Bob Garfinkel of Luxemburg, a former teacher who serves as co-founder and president of the group as well as a tutor, witnessing the change in his students and the benefit they get from it makes it worthwhile.
"I really get a kick out of seeing a person with low-level (literacy) skills improve," Garfinkel said. "I like seeing the light bulb go off over that person's head. When it kicks in and they get it, it's very satisfying."
Garfinkel said the program accepts adults only as students, noting that schools offer ESL programs for children. Tutors work one-on-one with their students, meeting in public places like schools or libraries around the county. They also have the option of working at their homes to offer schedule flexibility.
And, Garfinkel said, the local aspect is important to Kewaunee County. The program has worked with about 300 adults since starting 12 years ago, in July 2006.
"If people had to go to Green Bay or Sturgeon Bay for these services, they wouldn't (be able to) do it," he said.
Knowing a language besides English is helpful for tutors, but not necessary.
"The tutor doesn't have to know how to speak their language," Garfinkel said. "We have a plan, and it works."
The focus of the program is on the fundamentals of literacy — "basic reading, writing, English speaking skills," Garfinkel said — but he added it has programs to help students earn a GED or High School Equivalency Diploma; it's had 15 students earn GED certifications.
Plus, the newly learned language skills can be used to help students achieve other goals and certifications. Garfinkel said he helped one woman study for her real estate test and another study for the written part of her commercial driver's license exam, both successfully.
"I never drove truck before. That was a tough test," Garfinkel said with a chuckle. "We help people with various goals."
Literacy Partners also has helped 10 people study to earn U.S. citizenship.
Tutoring requires at least a six-month commitment, meeting once or twice a week for about 90 minutes with a student. But some tutors continue to work with their students well past those six months, and friendships have arisen. The most recent student to earn citizenship, in June, has worked with tutor and board member Mary Gotstein for about 10 years, earning her GED and high school diploma before becoming a citizen, and they maintain their relationship even though Gotstein has moved out of the area.
"You help others, and one of the fun parts of teaching has always been the relationship you have with your students," said Kate Phillips, a board member and tutor who's been with Literacy Partners since the start. "It helps them achieve their goals, but you also get to know somebody, especially the Hispanics in the community. You get know know somebody from another culture."
Garfinkel said he worked with a woman from Ukraine who became an international model, and they stay in touch by email as she sends him photographs of her working around the world.
While some may think ESL or literacy programs around here are mainly aimed at the Latino/Latina community, Literacy Partners has worked with students from many different cultures and parts of the world — including Kewaunee County.
"We have worked with people from 20 different countries," Garfinkel said. "We just had two GED graduates who were born and raised in Kewaunee County, two or three others learning basic language skills."
Garfinkel said some students who are English speakers by birth simply may have had to drop out of school early for different reasons. Others have had physical or developmental disabilities that interfered with their ability to learn, and Phillips said she and several other tutors worked together to help one with a developmental disability pass her citizenship test, including proving to the government that the student had the disability.
"That's another thing that's powerful about this, is working as a team," Phillips said.
Garfinkel also noted a man who became a Literacy Partners student while in the state's Huber work-release program for prisoners in county jails.
"He had a wonderful tutor," Garfinkjel said. "He was trying to get into (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College) but was three or four grade levels too low (on his literacy skills). After our program, he got in and graduated at the top of his class.
"There are a whole host of reasons people don't learn in school."
While the goal is for the students to learn, Garfinkel and Phillips said the tutors also often learn from their students.
"It's always something new," Phillips said. "You meet all kinds of people."
Literacy Partners of Kewaunee County, Inc., holds an introductory meeting for people interested in becoming volunteer tutors for residents who need help with language skills from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at United Methodist Church, 804 Parker Ave., Algoma. Those who attend the meeting are not obligated to join.
Those who decide to become tutors will have training sessions from 6 to 9:30 p.m. the following three Mondays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 and 12, at United Methodist.
For more information, including about becoming a student, call Bob Garfinkel at 920-676-2061, email [email protected] or visit literacykewauneeco.org.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee Co. literacy group helps with more than just language skills, needs tutors