Literacy Partners students commit themselves to one of the toughest challenges in the world: learning—as adults—to read, write, and speak in English. We’re constantly inspired by their fierce determination to improve their lives and those of their families. Here are some of their stories:Yolanda Munoz Fabiola Espinoza Alejandra Campos Michel Regino
Yolanda Munoz: Reading Pays Off
“The classes improve my parenting skills, and give me a way to help my children.”
Originally from Machala, Ecuador, Yolanda came to the United States in 2002 to find a better job. She enjoyed being surrounded by the diversity of people and cultures in New York City, but found it difficult to be so far away from family.
Yolanda joined Literacy Partners to build her English skills and help her connect with her family and her community. Yolanda has two children – Camila, 7, and Roger, 4, – and has seen a huge improvement in how she communicates with them. She says, “the class has helped me a lot with communicating with Camila and helping her with her homework. Camila feels happy that we can do homework together every day and speak together in English.” Before, her lack of English proficiency barred her from engaging with Camila and helping her with her homework. “Now, I understand more. I can tell her if she’s writing better or worse,” Yolanda says. Camila has noticed her mother’s improvement and encourages her regularly.
Yolanda is not the only one to experience the improvement – Camila, who is in first grade, has seen her grades increase between last year and this year, particularly for English and reading. Last year, Camila’s reading was at level 3 – with Yolanda’s coaching and regularly reading together, her reading is now at level 4, the highest level! Yolanda reads to Camila and Roger three or four times each week – Dr. Seuss books are a frequent choice – and Camila reads on her own every day. Roger is an emerging reader, and reads with Yolanda or Camila. At our recent Books of Their Own distribution, he picked out The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and is excited to read the book together.
English has built bridges within her family and with the outside community. “It’s easy to find friends here,” Yolanda says. Before, she was unable to respond to phone calls and comprehend what others were saying. “Before, I had to ask other people to make phone calls for me. Now I can do it myself. This class has helped me a lot,” she says. “The classes are really good for me. It’s a way to improve my parenting skills, and give me a way to help them.”
Her dream is for her children to study hard, have a good education and profession, and have a life that is successful and easier than hers.
Fabiola Espinoza: Building Family and Community
“My son is so happy that I know how to speak English better.”
Eleven years ago, Fabiola came to the United States seeking better job opportunities. Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Fabiola was 18 when she arrived, and had never had any formal English education. In Mexico, she had worked various jobs for little compensation. She wanted the opportunity for something better – and knew that learning English was key to getting a better job, and a more prosperous life.
Now an assistant at a hair salon and a mother of two, Fabiola joined a Literacy Partners class in the Bronx to receive formal English instruction and use her improved English proficiency to help take care of her family.
Learning English has made a huge difference for Fabiola. “Everything is much easier here: jobs, a good school for my kids, beautiful parks. It’s easy to make friends – everybody in the class is very nice. My teacher is the best teacher,” Fabiola says.
Fabiola’s children, seven-year-old Brandon and three-year-old Brianna, support their mother. “My son says, “Mommy, you speak better English!” and I say, “That’s why I go to school!”” Brandon corrects her English and encourages her. “He’s so happy that I know how to speak English better,” Fabiola says with a smile.
As her writing and reading improves, Fabiola also takes the time to read with her kids. She reads 30 minutes at a time with Brandon. Fabiola also helps Brandon with his homework, and, as a result of working together and reading together, he is doing better in school. As for Brianna – “She loves books. She loves everything I read to her.”
Fabiola has seen the impact learning English can have on all aspects of your life. Before when she read with Brandon, she used her phone for the English translation. Now, she no longer needs a translation and can read directly with Brandon and understand the material. At work, she is able to talk and explain more to her customers. When it comes to the class, she says, “I’m very happy to come to school because I learn so much. Everyone is family here. My teacher, Sari, is very nice and so sweet, and is good at explaining when you don’t understand something.” She credits Sari for the improvement in her reading, writing, and speaking skills.
Fabiola acknowledges the difficulties of living in the United States and occasionally debates returning to Mexico. “Then I say no because schools and jobs are better here. I stay because of my son and my daughter.” She tells Brandon to study hard and do well in school so that he could have a good future, a good job, and purchase a car and a house. Fabiola wants to use her improved English to go to school for hair styling and get a higher position at the hair salon. She knows that practicing her English will open doors.
“I feel very confident now,” she says with determination.
Reading Benefits the Family
“Everything we do together is mostly in English, and my kids teach me.”
“My dream is to have a good future. I want more opportunities, a good job, to finish my schooling, and have a house for me and my children,” Alejandra says. Alejandra pursued her dreams by immigrating from Puebla, Mexico, 10 years ago. Initially, Alejandra lived in California, where everyone around her spoke Spanish. When she came to New York, the language divide was more severe, and she knew she needed to learn English to have more opportunities accessible to her family.
“The language is difficult for me. When I speak, people don’t understand what I need or what I say.” When Alejandra came to Grand Street Settlement and saw flyers for Literacy Partners classes, she decided to sign up.
A mother of three, Alejandra wanted to learn English to become more involved with her children’s education. Her children – 11-year-old Jose, 9-year-old Vanessa, and 1-year-old Amy – speak very little Spanish, and are happy to see their mother speaking and understanding English. “Everything we do together is mostly in English, and my kids teach me,” Alejandra says.
Alejandra is directly involved with Vanessa and Jose’s schoolwork, and reads to them every day. She specifically focuses on reading with Vanessa, who was struggling as a reader. Using her improved English, Alejandra continuously checks in with Vanessa’s teacher to see what she can do to help Vanessa’s academic performance. “The class is good for me, and good for her,” Alejandra says. She also speaks with Jose’s teachers to ensure he does well in middle school.
Reading and homework help has strengthened Alejandra’s relationship with her children. “They like when I help with their homework. They say, “Mommy, thank you. I love you. Thank you for reading with me,” Alejandra says happily. Alejandra reads to each of her children one-on-one every day. Jose is a Harry Potter fan, Vanessa likes Curious George, and she reads Dr. Seuss to Amy. They also watch movies together in English.
Alejandra’s parents did not read to her growing up, and she recognizes the importance of reading aloud to your children. Her reading and coaching has paid off – Vanessa’s grades have improved. Four months ago, Vanessa failed the New York State reading test. After reading together every day, and being advised by her teacher to practice reading so that she doesn’t get left behind a grade, Vanessa passed the NYS reading exam. Now, Vanessa reads on her own on the tablet, reads books, and reads with Alejandra.
Alejandra provides similar coaching to Jose, who is a fan of his math class. She prevents him from feeling overwhelmed when he doesn’t understand the question. “I tell him to read it one more time with me, to relax, and that we will read together until we understand the question. I’m here.” In response, Jose says, “Okay, mommy. I understand now because you helped me. When you help me, I understand everything.”
In addition to parent-teacher conferences, Alejandra is now able to speak comfortably at the doctor, make appointments, go to the store, and read the Internet in English. Recently at an interview in a child support office, Alejandra asked for a translator. When the translator arrived, both her and the translator realized that she didn’t need one – her English was well enough to stand on her own.
“The classes have helped me a lot,” Alejandra says.
Michel Regino: Confident and Prepared
“I feel more prepared for life.“
Michel Regino says, “Literacy Partners classes changed me a lot. At my job I can feel the difference between before I took the classes and now. I feel like a better person and coworker, more responsible with my personal life. I can say the last couple years I changed a lot, not just because I want to get my diploma or to go to college. My personality, at my job, it’s much better. These classes have helped me to be more confident – not just in my job, but at home too. I feel more prepared for life.”
Michel, 36, is originally from Mexico City. He moved to the United States in 2002, first to California, and then cross-country to New York in 2004. He says the best part about New York is that he feels comfortable. He was able to find work. He found a soccer league to play in and has family here to stay with, to help him and to support him in achieving his goals. He feels safe in a way that he didn’t in Mexico City. He says the hardest part is the weather! He misses many of his friends and family who are still back home.
Michel studied accounting in Mexico, but did not complete his courses. He realized his options here were limited without the ability to speak English and without a diploma. His first step was to study and learn English. His second step was to explore options to get his GED. With it, he wants to further his education by going to college to study accounting.
Currently, Michel is not just a full-time student at Literacy Partners, but he is a cook at Nerai, a fancy Greek restaurant in midtown. Restaurant life is hard. He wakes up at 5:30 AM., is at work by 7, and then comes to Literacy Partners around 4 or 4:30 PM for our evening HSE classes which conclude at 9 PM. The schedule is punishing. But, he says it is worth it.
He shares that the Literacy Partners teachers provide all the tools, attention, and patience for him and his classmates. “The way they give the classes here makes me interested to learn more about all the subjects. I don’t come here because it’s an obligation. I come because I like the classes. So I can say all the subjects are my favorite.”
“Literacy Partners teachers support everyone.” He didn’t feel that with other schools he tried. “Literacy Partners is different – the teachers care and I feel the support and that the teachers want me to succeed.”
Michel is also a great writer and has had his work featured at Symphony Space and read by professional actors for the last two years. The first piece was written on his first day at Literacy Partners! The teacher gave an assignment to write about his home. At first, Michel was stumped thinking, “what can I read or write about my home?” He started thinking about his home back in Mexico and his friends coming over after school every day. So he wrote about that and his piece was chosen for Symphony Space. The second time, there was pressure! He knew a lot of people would come to the readings.He focused on expressing himself through his writing and to share something funny. He was successful and enjoyed hearing people laugh at his story being shared.
Michel is hoping to pass his TASC exam this year, though he is not rushing because he wants to get a high score. He shares, “The classes are hard –they feel like college level – like a real college. It makes me proud.” We know Michel will achieve his goals.