Students and their tutors are partners in learning

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Adult Basic Literacy tutor Harriet Kronman and learner Winifred Doerue are starting their fourth year working together. It’s hard to say who feels luckier they found each other.

“Harriet is not only my tutor but she is like a mother to me,” Winifred says. “She cares about me and my whole family.”

Harriet is equally enthusiastic. “Winifred has such a strong commitment to learning,” Harriet says. “It’s pure pleasure to tutor her.”

Winifred came to the United States from Liberia when she was 21. She worked as a hotel housekeeper at first but has worked as a caregiver in a memory care facility for nine years. She wanted to find help to improve her reading and writing. Through a friend, she found Literacy Connects’ Adult Basic Literacy program and was matched with Harriet, a new tutor who had just finished training and was looking forward to taking on her first student.

Winifred has made great progress during their time together.

Tutoring sessions have increased her skills at work, not only making her a more valuable employee but improving patient care. Because her writing is better, she is better able to leave accurate descriptions of patients in the care logs. She can also fill out the required forms if she sees a problem around the facility or with a patient that needs to be addressed.

“It used to give me a hard time, but now I can do it well,” Winifred says. “They are listening to me.”

Tutoring has also helped Winifred at home. She and her children do their homework together. Her children are six to 15. “Now I can read to the little one,” she says. She also enjoys reading the newspaper and knowing what’s happening in this community and around the world.

“Winifred is very smart and works very hard,” says Harriet. “She has a full time job and she and her husband, James are raising four gorgeous, caring, kind children.”

For Harriet, whose own parents were immigrants to the United States, knowing Winifred and her family has deepened her appreciation for the people who work so hard to make new lives in this country. “The more I’ve gotten to know Winifred and her family, , I understand their challenges and. I understand how hard America can be for those who come here.”

Harriet and Winifred meet twice-weekly, alternating between a quiet corner of the lobby of a local hotel or at the Dusenberry-River Branch of the Pima County Public Library. Sometimes they read and discuss what they have read. Sometimes they fill out forms Winifred needs in real life. Other times they look at photos and write what’s happening in them. This helps improve Winifred’s vocabulary and ability to explain and describe.

Harriet, a retired direct-marketing company executive, goes the extra mile to make sure their tutoring sessions together are relevant to Winifred’s needs and are helping her achieve her goals. She says she frequently spends as much time preparing for a session as she does working one-on-one with Winifred.

Winifred reads books at a young-adult level, but she needs adult information.  For that reason, Harriet often brings maps, photos, newspaper articles and other supplemental materials they can use to make their lessons more complete.

Because of Winifred’s work, they have spent lots of time studying medical terminology and learning about Alzheimer’s, vaccines, viruses and other medical issues pertinent to the patients in her care. They have read about the digestive and nervous systems, with emphasis on symptoms she might see at work.

“Because of Winifred’s increasing knowledge regarding the human body and problems that aging causes — and her increasing ability to articulate what she observes to her supervisor and executive director — she has earned their respect,” Harriet says.

Now, Winifred is training new employees in how to work and speak with dementia patients. “I have the confidence that I’m teaching something good,” Winifred says. “I’m a pro now.”

Winifred is now working toward getting her GED. To prepare, Harriet has conferred with Literacy Connects staff to develop a program directed to Winifred’s goal. She also took advantage of a Literacy Connects workshop for tutors all about the GED.

The pair have outlined what Winifred will need to know and the skills she will need to acquire. They both understand it will take a few years.

Winifred is not discouraged. “If you really want to become somebody, you can set your mind to it,” she says.

Volunteers are the heart and soul of Literacy Connects, giving more than 95,000 hours of their time each year. Whether you work one-on one with children or adults, teach a class to English learners, clean books or pull weeds, your efforts help Literacy Connects open doors of opportunity for learners of all ages.

Can you help? Do you know someone who is looking for a volunteer experience that really changes lives? Attend an upcoming Literacy Connects Orientation to find out all the ways you can help! Click here for more information and to register.

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