ears ago, as an undergraduate studying at West Chester University, I was enrolled in a political science course which focused on Latin American politics. To satisfy a portion of the final grade for the class, our professor offered us a unique option to participate in the Chester County Volunteer English Program, which involved providing one-onone instruction to people in the community learning English as a second language. I thought it sounded like an interesting opportunity to volunteer, as well as to gain some valuable teaching experience, so I jumped at the chance to do something new. At the time, my abilities in speaking Spanish sounded more like Spanglish, but I was reassured that I did not necessarily need to be fluent in another language in order to become an instructor. I completed the training process and was then paired with a young man from Guatemala to meet with once a week. My student was already speaking English at an advanced level, so our tutoring sessions mainly focused on the more abstract concepts in the English language, such as idioms—expressions whose meaning is
not predictable from the usual VEP tutors Norman and Marla meanings of its individual words. Although my student Fienman (center) with student and I were able to communi- Pablo Rodriguez and Commissioners cate with each other effort- Kichline and Farrell. lessly, I quickly discovered how challenging it can be to explain the English language learners to provide onemeanings behind expressions like “time on-one tutoring and cultural enrichment flies,” “actions speak louder than words,” that empowers immigrants to be successor “raining cats and dogs” to a non-native ful. English-speaking person. Nonetheless, my The story of the Chester County Volunstudent and I were able to successfully teer English Program begins in 1986, when complete our various workbooks together fourteen members of the Calvary Lutheran (and we may have shared a couple cer- Church in West Chester uncovered a vezas in the process). The whole experi- growing need for the teaching of English as ence was a pleasant surprise, and I never a second language to adult immigrants in knew that taking a college class would Chester County. This small band of volunleave such a lasting impression. teers, led by Mrs. June Hamilton, a ChesToday, as a college professor myself, my professional world places a high value on service to the community, on empowering those in need with the necessary tools to become fully-functioning participants in society. The Chester County Volunteer English Program is an organization that perfectly captures this spirit of service to others, as it connects those who want to give back to their communities with adult
ter County resident and educator, became known as the Volunteer English Program (VEP). Thirty-three years later, VEP continues to be the only non-profit organization in Chester County that is exclusively committed to the mission of providing private English language, cultural immersion, and citizenship tutoring for immigrants and refugees who live in or work in the Chester County area.
MAY 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough