By Karl Terry: PNT managing editor
Nancy Foley’s reading students don’t report to a classroom Monday through Friday. Instead many are struggling to make a living or raise a family.
They all have one thing in common — the knowledge reading English will help them out in life through increased earning or citizenship.
Foley is an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor for the Roosevelt County Literacy Council. Some students already speak varying degrees of English, while others don’t. Most, but not all, have Spanish as their first language.
“I don’t work and I wanted to do what I could,” Foley said of her reasons for volunteering. “They (her students) seem very gracious about it. They’re very happy to have the help. It makes me feel like I have a purpose and gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”
She says many people learning English are timid about asking questions. She tries to set them at ease right away with patience and friendliness.
“I just tell them that’s how you learn — you’ve got to ask questions,” Foley said. “I tell them never to be bashful with me.”
RCLC Executive Director Pete Martinez says students tend to find the organization on their own but tutors are always in demand.
“We’re always trying to recruit tutors, because our tutors are volunteers,” Martinez said.
Martinez says that the organization normally has about 15 volunteers that work with RCLC’s four free services. Currently that number is down as people transition back into the school year.
He said volunteers have to be willing to commit to 15 hours of training themselves as well as at least weekly sessions of an hour with their students.
Foley moved to Portales in 2005 and quickly volunteered as a tutor. It wasn’t the first time as a tutor for the former teaching assistant from Broward County, Fla. Besides her work with children at school, she was also a volunteer in Tennessee.
It was when she lived in Tennessee that she worked with her most challenging student to date, an Iranian woman who didn’t know any English at all.
“I just said, ‘I’ve got to help this girl,” Foley recalled.
Foley didn’t speak Farsi so the two overcame the language barrier with texts that used pictures to build the vocabulary. It took a while, but Foley said it was gratifying.
Most of Foley’s cases have been one-on-one but she said she once tutored three women who were at the same literacy level at one time.
Her typical Portales student is in their late 20s with Spanish as a first language with some schooling and English language skills but trouble with verb conjugation and sentence structure.
She says Spanish-speaking students are often confused because adverbs follow the noun in their native language, opposite of English. Practice and patience are the prescription for problems like that, she says.
Martinez said a higher literacy rate also brings economic benefit into the community.
“What we’re trying to do is provide these services to people so they can get a better job or advance in their current job,” Martinez said.
Roosevelt County Literacy Council
• English as a Second Language (ESL), for adults learning the English language
• Adult Basic Literacy, for adults wishing to overcome illiteracy
• Pre-GED, prepares adults to take the general equivalency test
• Citizenship classes, prepares adults to apply for citizenship
• RCLC was founded in 1989
• RCLC is a non-profit, funded by N.M. Coalition on Literacy, United Way, grants and private donations
• To receive service a resident must be at least 16 and not be enrolled in school
To volunteer as a tutor