The Oakland Literacy Council is seeking a Digital Literacy Coordinator. This part-time position will lead a new effort to enhance digital literacy in Oakland County particularly in the City of Pontiac. For more information, see the job description.
They were born three decades apart. Their lives cross three continents. Yet tutor Don Haffner and student Esayas Tasew share so much in common.
Both have dedicated their lives to helping people. Don worked in the Peace Corps teaching English in Korea. He lived in Korea for a total of 15 years, continuing to teach English at schools and U.S. military bases. When Don later returned to Detroit, he produced books for blind and dyslexic people. Don now teaches world history at Oakland Community College.
Esayas immigrated from Ethiopia three years ago, joining family already in the Detroit area. He leads a congregation of 50 parishioners at St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Ferndale. Esayas’ wife and young son still live in Ethopia. He looks forward to the time when they can join him in the United States.
Both enjoy talking about current events and learning about each other’s countries and cultures. Don reads BBC and Reuters every day. Whenever he finds an article about Ethiopia, he makes a copy to read and discuss with Esayas. Don explains, “It is interesting for the student because it is their country but also shows that I am interested in his country, not just the other way around.”
Don also has a chance to get a deeper understanding of Ethiopia. “He [Esayas] knows more about it than what is in the article.”
Esayas is an eager learner, with the goal to learn English well enough to attend an international theology school. Prior to the pandemic, the pair were meeting up to four hours a week at the Ferndale Library – twice the required weekly hours. Once the library closed, Esayas and Don tried to meet over Zoom, but Esayas doesn’t have a strong Internet connection and finds the computer challenging.
Don and Esayas have found a new way to meet. Don prints and leaves study materials in Esayas’ mailbox every few weeks. Then they have phone meetings twice a week.
While the arrangement might not be ideal, it is working. Esayas is grateful to Don: “He is my prize, my light.”
Helpful. Excellent. Cooperative. Positive. Purpose. Words we all need right now. Words the participants use to describe Oakland Literacy Council’s (OLC) newest learning group.
This group of English language learners, led by OLC tutor Hannah Hilbert, works together to grow their professional skills – resumes, networking, interviewing, workplace culture, and more. It’s the first for Oakland Literacy Council on this topic. And one of the first groups to go virtual – they meet over Zoom every Thursday evening.
The timing could not have been better. The adult students are experiencing common frustrations of the pandemic. Lenise, originally from Brazil, wants to start looking for a job, but now “everything stopped.” For Sudha, a native of India, “24 hours staying home is difficult. It’s hard to manage kids and family.” Not being completely fluent in English yet, they feel an added layer of isolation during the shutdown.
It turns out the group is fostering more than professional skills. It is also fostering friendship. Sudha looks forward to sharing these 90 minutes each week with new friends. “It is very memorable and excellent for me.”
The facilitator, Hannah Hilbert, a regional business development specialist for Mercedes Benz Financial Services, has been an OLC tutor for 3 ½ years. Along with tutoring, she actively contributes to the OLC community at professional development, social, and fundraising activities. Her inspiration for becoming a tutor came from an “alternative spring break” experience in college. She spent the week in Georgia volunteering with an organization that assists refugees with resettlement, including learning English.
Hannah speaks Spanish, German, and Portuguese. The idea for the professional skills learning group came from her involvement with foreign language professional groups here in the Detroit area.
Heading into the first session with the new group, Hannah wasn’t sure what to expect. She was so pleased that “everyone clicked really fast and they were really interested in helping each other out.”
Each week, Hannah sends the students vocabulary lists and an assignment to prepare for the upcoming session. During the session, the group has time to socialize, share homework, give each other feedback, and review new lessons. For Takara from Japan, it has been helpful to learn to write a resume in “the American way” and understand the differences in work culture between the United States and her home country. Lenise appreciates learning all the new vocabulary needed to apply for a job. Sudha feels more prepared to introduce herself to prospective employers now that she has prepared an “elevator pitch.”
Abir, a native of Lebanon, is in the process of interviewing for jobs. She values this opportunity to improve the quality of her English. “All of us have hope to be more confident in English. Hannah gives us hope. Gives us motivation. [Hannah tells us], ‘Yes, you can do it! You’re going to do it! You’ll be fine.’ It’s a positive feeling.”
Talking to Hannah, it is clear the positive feeling goes both ways. “I feel like I am giving back to society, to the greater good. There were times when I felt lost in a foreign country because I couldn’t speak the language, and someone took me under their wing. Now I can pay it forward.”
Oakland Literacy Council hosted a free webinar for parents, grandparents, and anyone helping children learn during the Covid-19 shutdown. Felicia Geeter, language arts instructional coach and OLC testing coordinator, shared online resources to educate and engage children — from English and math to virtual field trips.
View the presentation and resource list here:
Join Librarian Devon Green for a Chat and Chew Online discussing Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming this Wednesday April 8th at 2 pm. Register at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/uJ0pc-2uqDMiUlD7nXkmIt4TQ3teiu5KoA
Both tutor and student are young women with dreams.
Tutor Julie Molnar is in the middle of a career change. A student at Oakland University, she is studying for a master’s degree in teaching with a focus on English Language Learning (ELL). Her degree focuses on K-12 education, but, through tutoring at Oakland Literacy Council, she has developed a love for teaching adults and “the authentic relationship” she develops with them.
Student Evelyn Ascencios immigrated to the United States from Peru, where she studied nutrition. Currently, she works at a gourmet grocery store but looks forward to enrolling in school to become a medical assistant. Julie describes Evelyn as a motivated learner who “knows her stuff.”
Julie and Evelyn had been meeting every Friday at the West Bloomfield Township Library until libraries closed due to the pandemic.
However, the tutor-student team isn’t letting social distancing deter them from their dreams. Julie and Evelyn continue meeting each Friday using Zoom video conferencing. Julie notes that they actually have more learning time because no time is spent finding a room at the library and getting settled. “We can start right at the beginning,” she says.
Julie also believes that, for tutors who like a lot of structure, “this [remote meetings] actually helps you maintain more structure because they can see your screen and they can see the objectives.”
With Julie’s encouragement, Evelyn is also brushing up on her professional interviewing and conversation skills. Evelyn has joined a new Oakland Literacy Council conversation group (also virtual) focused on career readiness.
Remote learning is not without its challenges. Julie finds that it can be harder to check if Evelyn understands the lesson because computer response can be slow at times. Evelyn misses the face-to-face contact. But Julie and Evelyn are working through the challenges together.
After the second virtual meeting, Julie felt “in two words – more confident.”
She has these words of advice for tutors who may be anxious about remote meetings:
“ The overarching lesson learned is to keep the end goal in mind. If you both talk explicitly about the challenges you may face technologically up front, when they do happen, neither of you feel bad/worried. You just problem solve together, and continue onward to both your goal of bettering the student’s English in a way that is meaningful to them.”
Evelyn describes Julie as “the best teacher ever” who “always solves my problems.” Together they are turning problems into opportunities.
The Covid-19 crisis hit close to home last week as we learned of the passing of Gladys “Gaby” Davis. Gaby, age 90, of West Bloomfield, died on March 21, 2020. She had what you might call a second career at Oakland Literacy Council, tutoring students for over 15 years.
Gaby was a champion for literacy throughout her life. As a elementary school teacher, she earned her master’s degree in reading and reading disabilities at a time when little was known about dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Gaby “thought teaching kids to read was the most important thing she could do as a teacher,” shared daughter Laurie Davis.
After retiring from the classroom, Gaby shared her talent and passion for reading with adult students at Oakland Literacy Council. Laurie remembers how her mother loved working with the different students she had over the years. Among her students were a young immigrant woman working as a nanny and a older student who never learned to read and wanted to help her kids with their school work.
“I think my mom’s long connection to the Oakland Literacy Council really reflects her deep commitment to people and her community.”
Laurie has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a volunteer tutor in Washington, D.C.
OLC Board President Judy Lindstrom remembers the energy and spirit Gaby brought to the Council:
“Gaby was a tutor for many years. She was amazing. She filled a room with such joy. And, her claim to fame were her beautiful eyes. When we had mailings, Gaby was the first to volunteer but could only stay an hour. Once she left, it was like she sucked all the air out of the room.”
Our sincerest condolences to Gaby’s friends and family. Our thanks to the family for honoring her legacy with tribute gifts to Oakland Literacy Council. We also thank Gaby’s family for allowing us to share the story of her life and her passing. Please help us honor Gaby by staying home and staying safe.
The obituary for Gaby Davis can be found HERE. The Detroit Jewish News is also planning to feature her life in an upcoming issue.
Social distancing? Libraries closed? What would that mean for the 200 Oakland Literacy Council (OLC) volunteer tutors who are teaching adults throughout Oakland County?
For Turesa Lewis, it means doubling down on her commitment to her students. Turesa, recently retired from AT&T, has been a volunteer tutor with OLC since 2014. Normally she meets in person each week with her two students, one who is an advanced English language learner and the other who is an adult basic education student.
Without the option to meet face to face, Turesa is adapting and learning new technologies so her students can keep learning. Turesa was one of over 70 tutors who attended recent OLC training sessions to learn to use Zoom to meet virtually with students.
Turesa, who has a passion for writing, reflected on the challenge ahead:
“CRISIS: Danger and Opportunity” – This was shared on one of our training calls last week and really touched me. The crisis has presented an unknown danger that has led our leaders to direct us all to stay home. As a tutor with the Oakland Literacy Council, I find this is a great opportunity for me to serve others. In this time of uncertainty, face-to-face tutoring is no longer exercised. I miss meeting with both my students every day. Yes, I have two students that I have committed myself to each week. Yet I’m embracing this new opportunity to learn and expand my knowledge of using digital tools. The Zoom app is new to many of us and has lots of bells and whistles. This is overwhelming and exciting. Now that we are stuck in the house, why not take this opportunity to use the tools provided and connect with our students to continue to give them the same level of service as we once did when we met with them face to face? One day we will all look back at this time and remember how well we moved past this.”
Turesa knows firsthand that remote learning can also be challenging for students. One of her students goes to a neighbor’s house to work on the computer because she doesn’t have her own. Turesa explains, “Each time I send her an e-mail, I have to call her to be sure that she receives it.”
Turesa is fortunate to have solid technical skills she developed in her professional life.
She encourages those who are less comfortable with technology to look for tutorials. “In most cases, the tutorials are designed to get you through it.”
She has some extra advice for her peers: “Baby boomers, don’t be afraid to reach out to those millennials who can whip through this technology!”
Click HERE to learn more about Turesa, one of our “35 Faces of Literacy.”
Listening audio files
March 7, 2020
Dear Students and Tutors,
We at the Oakland Literacy Council are aware of the evolving situation regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We want to inform you that at this time, there have been no known cases of the COVID-19 virus in the State of Michigan. However, it is important for all of us to be diligent in protecting ourselves from this virus and other illnesses as the situation is likely to change.
We have been talking to our partners at the Oakland County Health Department and they want you to know that all of us should be practicing everyday preventive actions now. Remind everyone in your household of the importance of practicing everyday preventive actions that can help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles) using a regular household detergent and water.
- If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent and water prior to disinfection. For disinfection, a list of products with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved emerging viral pathogens claims, maintained by the American Chemistry Council Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC), is available at Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fighting Products. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
Follow the Centers for Disease Control Travel Guidelines
We are also asking you to follow the CDC travel guidelines if you are traveling out of the country. There are currently guidelines for China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran. Please refer to the website if you plan to travel. Please do not meet with your tutor (or student) if you have been advised to self-quarantine. Please call the office at 248.253.1617 if you are unable to meet or you need to reschedule a test.
Please continue to follow the recommendations from our public health officials. Information can be found at:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control– https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- The State of Michigan- https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus. The State of Michigan has also produced these fact sheets:
- Frequently Asked Questions About Coronavirus Disease 2019
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Fact Sheet – English
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Fact Sheet – Traditional Chinese
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Fact Sheet – Simplified Chinese
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Fact Sheet – Spanish
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Oakland County Health Department– https://www.oakgov.com/health/information/covid-19/Pages/default.aspx.
- The Oakland County Health Department also has a nurse on call that can answer any questions. You can call them at 1-800-848-5533 or email email@example.com. If you email the nurse in advance and tell them what language you want, they will find a translator in over 90 languages.
Practice Your English
There are so many new words to learn. Use this time to practice English. Here are some resources:
Lesson Plan Ideas
- Review Fact sheets from the State of Michigan (above)