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Students, tutors join for holiday lunch, conversations

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Dishes inspired by Ecuador, Panama, Puerto Rico, Korea, China, Brazil and Kyrgyzstan were served Tuesday with a side of newly acquired English language skills during an annual holiday luncheon hosted by Literacy of Northern New York.

Nearly two dozen English-as-a-second-language students and some tutors joined for a holiday feast, and between a brief conversations in attendees’ native tongues, they showed off just how far they have come.

“I can join one class only like this at Army Community Services,” said Elizabeth Park, an ESL student originally from Korea. “It’s not enough for me.”

During the luncheon, held at the agency’s offices on Washington Street, she asked Program Manager Deborah E. Tate if she could receive one-on-one ESL tutor help. Mrs. Tate said she’ll have to wait, as a couple of people are on the waiting list and there’s a need for more volunteers to tutor.

All it takes to volunteer, Mrs. Tate said, is to have a high school diploma, complete a few training sessions, and then make about an hour commitment each week to help people like Ms. Park, who want to excel in speaking English.

From July 2012 to June 2013, Executive Director M. Cecilia Brock said the agency helped 188 students excel in English or math.

Retired school social worker Carla Haas became a tutor about two months ago, and currently has an adult student from Korea.

“She had studied English in a Korean high school and French, but her high school program emphasized grammar and never emphasized time to speak,” she said. “She’s now thinking she might want to take a literature course at JCC.”

The agency also utilizes advanced-level ESL students to help teach people who are just learning key words and phrases in English. One advanced student goes to a local farm to teach ESL to migrant workers, and a former ESL student is now a math tutor for another student.

“It helps us out. They fill a need with a student,” Mrs. Tate said. “What we’re doing is using the skills of the students to help the program, and it’s been very successful.”

That part of the program has been going on for about two years, she said.

Mrs. Tate said the holiday luncheon is put on each year because each student and tutor work hard to reach success.

“Everyone needs a break and to celebrate,” she said. “Most of them now know each other. They’ve come to know each other in class and they’ve bonded.”

People who would like to become a tutor can attend upcoming training sessions, which are held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays from Jan. 6 to 23 at the agency, 200 Washington St., Suite 303. The training is free, but there is a $25 fee for the textbook.

To register, call 782-4270; for more information, visit www.proliteracynny.org.

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