Reading, Writing and Relationships: WSC volunteers find camaraderie with ELL students
Dec. 21, 2010 -- It’s another cold Monday night in Gunnison, as adults and children step into the lighted warmth of the Gunnison Community School, shuck off coats and gloves, and sign in for evening English classes through the Gunnison Literacy Action Program.
Western State College of Colorado (WSC) student and faculty volunteers mingle with the immigrants and their children, joking and laughing. The adult students move into the computer lab, where volunteers help English Language Learners (ELL) practice English on the computer. Meanwhile, some WSC volunteers follow the children into their classrooms, where they help with homework, educational games and even the planning for the program’s holiday celebration and concert.
For five years, WSC students and faculty have been among the ELL volunteers who have provided the energy and individualized attention that make Gunnison’s evening ELL classes thrive. Many volunteers come one night a week for two hours to support the programming of the lead instructors. Volunteers work with students in small groups, assisting with pronunciation, reading, writing and clarifying cultural differences. Perhaps most important is the sense of community and camaraderie that builds among the students and volunteers, noted Selenia Rascon, a WSC graduate who now works in the Multicultural Resource Office and serves the cultural liaison to the literacy program.
WSC volunteers also have led small groups of advanced students. Most recently, WSC student Will Forrest created a book club, and this spring, WSC student Jenny Hill will begin teaching a weekly class to prepare residents to take the citizenship exam.
Like other volunteers, both Forrest and Hill say that keep coming back because of their relationships with the students, and because of how much fun they have helping them.
“The program as a whole is kind of like a big family,” remarked Hill, who has volunteered with the program for four years. “You get to know these students really well and then you look forward to going and seeing your friends twice a week. It’s pretty sweet.”
Karen Hausdoerffer, instructor and volunteer coordinator, explained that volunteers play an essential role in the adult and children ELL classrooms.
“In the adult classrooms, we serve a wide variety of ability levels from students who have never attended school and know only a handful of English words to students who have earned graduate degrees in their own countries and have spoken English for years. The children’s classrooms serve children from three months through fifth grade, so they also bring a mix of skills and interests. Volunteers provide the individualized attention that helps our students of all ages to succeed,” Hausdoerffer said.
The Gunnison Literacy Action program always welcomes new volunteers from Western and the community. For more information, contact Hausdoerffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.