Before social distancing was required in response to COVID-19, adult learners in the Redlands Adult Literacy Program met weekly with their volunteer tutors at A. K. Smiley Public Library or program-approved learning sites at Clement Middle School, Family Services Association and the Redlands Community Center. The tutor-learner teams worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help the learners improve their reading and writing skills.
On March 16th, the library was closed to the public due to COVID-19. The literacy program faced the major challenge of finding new ways for tutors to assist learners in meeting their literacy goals, while complying with the governor’s social distancing guidelines. Additionally, the request for literacy assistance grew, as 25% of adult learners were laid off due to the economic downturn.
Tutors and learners have met the social distancing challenge with innovation and creativity by using apps, online computer resources, and phones to meet. In fact, over 50 adult learners continue to meet with their tutors, participate in the family literacy program, use online software independently, and participate in the learner-led book club to improve their literacy skills. The following are a few of their stories:
Maria Antonia Amao and her tutor, Barbara Vester, continue to meet weekly. They use Zoom and Google Docs to “discuss and edit Maria Antonia’s writings in real time.” When asked how their virtual sessions compare to meeting in person, they said that their connection was as if they were sitting side by side in the library. Meeting online gives them more flexibility and they don’t need to commute. Barbara noted that their literacy routine is only interrupted when Maria Antonia’s children pop in to say, “Hello!”
Kathie Cejka and learner Wen Sung Hsu meet using the telephone. They have incorporated the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic into writing lessons. Recently, Wen Sung wrote this poem that echoes many of our experiences:
Sunday, pray, worship, preach, use Zoom.
Monday, class, teaching, discussion, use Zoom.
Tuesday, mothers group, chatting, use Zoom.
This poem and other tutor-learner writings are being forwarded to the California Library Literacy Services (CLLS), which is compiling a statewide collection of works related to the pandemic. These writings will be posted online and retained as part of the state’s historical record.
Adult learners who are parents of young children face new challenges as they help their children with on-line schoolwork. Tutor Joan Prehoda provides advice and encouragement to her learner who is navigating this new learning environment by sharing ideas such as sending emails to teachers if topics are unclear or inquiring about her child’s progress.
The family literacy program supports several families through Zoom twice each month and with one-on-one phone calls from co-leaders Renee Kennedy and Joan Prehoda. Joan shared, “Families are challenged to use what they have learned during Zoom sessions in their daily lives. During one session, parents learned how to make the most of reading time at home. Strategies such as, pointing out interesting things in the illustrations and encouraging children to predict what will happen next by using open-ended questions develop comprehension, create a bond between parent and child, and add to the enjoyment of reading.”
Adult learners have also used Zoom for bi-monthly book club meetings. Twelve learners are reading My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson under the leadership of adult learner leaders, Tanya Jauregui and Martha Romo. The book club members enjoy the opportunity to improve their literacy skills by reading a book independently and talking about its themes at their meetings.
Teaching adults to improve their reading and writing so that they can obtain better employment and help in the education of their family is the foundation of making “Redlands Strong.” The Redlands Adult Literacy Program invites you to volunteer to help adults in our community improve their reading and writing. If you are interested in becoming a tutor, please contact the Redlands Adult Literacy Program at (909)798-7565 ext. 4138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know of someone who needs help in reading and writing, please encourage them to take the first step in changing their lives by contacting the Redlands Adult Literacy Program.