Literacy Volunteer Organizations: Providing Alternative Education for Adults

By Farrell, Jacqueline | Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Literacy Volunteer Organizations: Providing Alternative Education for Adults


Farrell, Jacqueline, Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin


In the United States today, 36 million adults are functionally illiterate (Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2012). They find it difficult to find employment that pays a living wage and lack the twenty-first-century skills and training to compete for jobs. They cannot read an e-mail or directions on a medical prescription. They cannot read to their children or help with homework. Some are immigrants who struggle to learn English. Many find it difficult to attend traditional adult education programs because of work schedules, childcare issues, or transportation problems.

But help is available. ProLiteracy America is a nonprofit organization that provides accreditation standards, advocacy, and program and professional development services to community-based volunteer literacy organizations. Last year, its 1,200 affiliates in the United States provided instruction to 245,173 adult students. Literacy Volunteers on the Green (LVG), based in New Milford, Connecticut, is one of those organizations tackling the problem of illiteracy, one individual at a time. A nonprofit organization, it depends upon volunteers and funding from donations and grants to accomplish its mission of promoting English literacy among individuals in Litchfield and Northern Fairfield counties of Connecticut. Its target population is adults who cannot read, who want to improve their literacy skills, or who want to learn English. Since its inception 10 years ago, LVG has assisted more than 500 students and trained more than 160 volunteer tutors. The demand for its services continues to grow each year.

LVG's programs include basic literacy instruction for native English speakers, instruction for English language learners (ELLs), workplace literacy, citizenship-test preparation, programs for ELL parents to help them better communicate with their children's teachers and support their children's learning, a college application mentoring program for high school students, and family literacy support. More than 95% of LVG's students are immigrants who are learning English as a second language. Less than 5% are native English speakers who are functionally illiterate. Due to space constraints, this article focuses on the organization's program for ELLs.

LVG's ELLs

The 2010 census identified 6.3% of the residents of Litchfield County and 20% of the residents of Fairfield County as foreign born (U.S. Department of Commerce). The immigrants who live in the primarily rural small towns of Northern Fairfield and Litchfield counties work in landscaping, the restaurant business, and housekeeping jobs. They must speak English in order to shop in a store, speak to an employer, visit a doctor, worship in church, or speak with their child's teacher. They are linguistically isolated because the types of multilingual businesses and medical or religious options that are prevalent in larger cities are not available in these towns.

Women comprise 82% of LVG's students. Of all the students, 28% have less than a 12th-grade education; 36% completed secondary school is their native country, and 18% have university degrees. Their ages range from 16 to 86. However, the majority (57%) are between 25 and 44, with 31% between 45 and 59. Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese dominate the list of first languages.

The Program

LVG provides students with free instruction by well-trained volunteer tutors who use an established and successful model to insure quality instruction and consistency. The only requirement for tutors is that they be fluent in English, have a desire to help an ELL, and complete the organization's training program. Lessons provided one-on-one or in groups of fewer than 5 students allow tutors to individualize the instruction. Classes are scheduled around students' work responsibilities and at locations near their homes to eliminate transportation obstacles.

Registration of students occurs on an ongoing basis. A trained staff member assesses each applicant's literacy skills using the English as a Second Language Oral Assessment (ESLOA), a research-based evaluation of fluency, and completes an intake survey regarding the individual's educational and employment background and goals. …

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