Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon LevyJune 22nd, 2017
- What motivated or inspired you to become an LCMC volunteer?
I had lived in Brazil and had to learn to speak, read, and write in Portuguese. I had sympathy for the people that were in that position coming here. I had been a speech and language pathologist for Montgomery County Public Schools and did bi-lingual evaluations, and I think that’s how I heard about the LCMC’s program.
- How long have you been an LCMC volunteer? What has motivated you to stick with it for so long?
I’ve tutored consistently since I think 2005, and my number of students at any one time has varied. I started with two students and I’ve had up to as many as four at one time. Sometimes I’ve taken breaks when I’ve had to help my family living in other parts of the country but otherwise I’ve been doing it consistently.
We have done a lot of traveling, and I just felt for the people that didn’t have the opportunity for education. I did some volunteer work in Central America for instance, and I saw that many people didn’t have the opportunity to get an education but were forced to leave their countries for economic reasons or other reasons, and come to the US, and I wanted to be helpful to those people. And I continue to feel that way.
- What has been your proudest achievement (or some of your proudest achievements) as a tutor?
I’m most proud of working with students that start with no reading ability – they couldn’t even really give the sound of letters – and then end up progressing. My very first student was in that situation, and the student I’m working with now is from Jamaica and is also in that situation. He is really progressing. And two of my students have been able to pass their citizenship tests.
My most memorable student was Kady. She was my first student, and she had had a difficult background in her home country but really wanted to educate herself. She didn’t even really know how to use numbers; she sold fish at a market and actually used pebbles for counting. We worked really hard, we met twice a week, and she went through all four levels. Now she is married and has a family and works full time. We continue to be friends, and she thinks of me as her mom.
- What has been your biggest challenge (or some of your biggest challenges) as a tutor?
Working with students for whom English is a second language when their first language is very dominant. That makes it difficult because of the lack of vocabulary and correct sentence structure; it makes it more difficult to go further with their reading and writing. Single word and simple sentences are okay, but to go further than that is so hard. Especially in writing, because spelling in English is so difficult. I think those upper levels get to be the hardest because of the written aspect.
- What advice would you give to current or future tutors on meeting their own goals and overcoming their own obstacles?
I think creativity in presenting the lessons is very important because each student is an individual in terms of their learning styles. You just can’t follow by rote the structure, sometimes you have to be flexible in terms of more sight-reading or more phonetic-reading. Flexibility is key. To be understanding, also, of the life difficulties that might be happening with students in their personal lives, is very important. I think some volunteers get discouraged because their students will have to cancel – that’s happening with one of my students now, but I just keep going with her.
- What is your favorite aspect of volunteering?
Seeing the happiness of the students when they have not been able to read and suddenly their whole world opens by being able to read at least at some functional level. This student I have now – he never thought he would be able to read. It’s a challenge – his first language is so dominant so the sentence structure is hard to follow when he’s speaking to me. But it’s rewarding. I think people don’t realize that someone’s literacy level doesn’t have anything to do with their level of intelligence or ability to learn. He’s so smart.
- How has being an LCMC volunteer impacted your life?
Being a tutor has enriched my life, because it’s also about getting to know other cultures. And that’s kind of a continuation because my husband and I were in the Peace Corps in Brazil so we were fully immersed in the learning of another culture, and this has allowed me to continue that.
Being a Literacy volunteer, it’s so much more than just teaching reading and writing. I feel honored – it’s been a big part of my life.