Students ► SUCCESS STORIES
As with most tutor-learner duos at Literacy DuPage, Karen and Christian started with the basics – reading, writing and speaking the English language.
However, shortly after they became a team, the scope of their work expanded to include the cultural aspects of literacy that make the difference between merely surviving and thriving in the U.S.
Christian moved to the U.S. with her husband Ernesto in 2005 knowing virtually no English. She worked at fast-food restaurants before starting her family. By the time Christian’s son and daughter were in school, it became increasingly apparent that she needed to communicate with her children’s teachers, doctors and other professionals.
She was also preparing to rejoin the workforce and she realized that being able to converse in English would make her a more competitive candidate.
Karen, an elementary school teacher with ESL certification and more than 20 years of experience teaching English literacy to adult learners,signed on to be Christian’s tutor.
“Christian and I started with very concrete things, such as, "Name the objects in your home; spell the names of your children, and tell me your address," Karen explained. “One of her goals was to be able to read to her children. So she went through two adult reading books, which enabled her to help her children with their homework.”
“After that, we stressed more listening and conversation skills,” Karen continued. “We went to restaurants to eat. Christian came to Literacy DuPage’s Reading Between the Wines event and sat at a table with English speakers and made conversation.
In the three short years since the two women started working together, Christian has advanced to the point where she understands about 90 percent of what is said to her. She can easily converse with doctors, teachers and other English speakers.
This last year has been filled with accomplishments for Christian. She passed her driver’s license exam and then started looking for work.
“I have a new part-time job,” Christian related. “My interview was in English, and my boss understood everything I said.”
There’s no question that Christian is thriving. She’s confident talking with doctors and teachers and even watching movies in English.
Christian credits Karen with her success.
“Karen is a good teacher and very patient,” Christian said. “She keeps telling me you can!”
For Pablo and his wife Linda, the dream of a better life in the U.S. has been unfolding in stages, culminating in their buying a home in Westmont last year.
Pablo first came to the U.S. looking for work in 1997, leaving Linda behind in Mexico while he spent seven years establishing a foothold in Chicago. When he felt somewhat secure, Linda moved north as well and they started their family.
While Linda had graduated from high school in Mexico, Pablo studied only until seventh grade. Neither of them spoke English on arrival. For Pablo, this was not much of a hindrance, since his colleagues at the restaurants where he worked were also native Spanish speakers. He continued to focus on earning money for his family.
Linda, however, wanted to be able to communicate with her neighbors, store clerks, doctors and others she encountered in the community. That’s why, within a few years of migrating to the U.S., she came to Literacy DuPage to improve her skills.
As her literacy skills improved, Linda encouraged Pablo to sign up with DuPage Literacy for a tutor. He, too, has seen the benefits of improving his speaking ability.
“I have more opportunity with my job now,” Pablo said.
About four years ago, Pablo was paired with Coleman, a University of Chicago MBA who – having made his mark in the business world – decided it was time to become more active in community and volunteer activities.
“I’ve got time in my life now,” Coleman explained. “And working with Pablo and Linda has been such a great experience for me -- it’s opened me up to a life I would never have imagined. Sometimes I think it’s easy to live in a bubble in this country.”
The couple’s dedication to learning is inspirational. While Linda continues to enhance her writing skills, Pablo is focusing on reading comprehension.
“At one point Pablo had three jobs going, but he always carved out time for me to go there in the afternoons and give him lessons,” Coleman said. “They are driven to succeed in this country, particularly for their children.”
Like many people who marry in their teens and start having children, Janie’s career and educational aspirations took a backseat to the needs of her growing family.
Born in the farming community of Leland, Mississippi, in the heart of blues country, Janie and her husband came to Chicago in the early 1970s seeking a better life After he landed a job in the city, Janie followed him north with their three young children. During the early years in the Windy City, Janie was focused on childrearing. Whenever she had the time and an opportunity came up, she worked temporary jobs.
By the time their children were in school full-time, a friend from Janie’s church had helped her land a job as a data entry operator at the Chicago Board of Trade. Although Janie lacked a high school diploma, her friend’s recommendation was all it took to get her foot in the door. With Janie’s strong work ethic, she built a 26-year career there before retiring in 2006.
With more time on her hands, Janie started to think about improving her literacy skills.
“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement,” Janie said. “I knew I wanted to do constructive things with my time.”
The Downers Grove Township referred Janie to DuPage Literacy. About two years ago, she was paired with Laurie, who had taught special education in suburban Chicago before turning her focus to her own children.
“I still really had a passion for teaching and I missed it,” Laurie explained. “I thought to myself: How can I teach without being involved in the politics of a school district? When I saw a notice online for Literacy DuPage, I realized that this would be something I could be interested in.”
In the two years Janie and Laurie have been working together, Janie has progressed to the point where she’s reading To Kill a Mockingbird. She also enjoys reading the Bible.
Her improved literacy skills are also helpful in other aspects of her life.
“I teach Sunday school and I feel more secure about talking in front of a roomful of people and talking now,” Janie said. “I also feel more confident communicating as a mother and grandmother. I feel better about myself overall and better about sharing the wisdom I have about life.”