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Carrie’s Reflections: 

I am glad that I am able to continue my AmeriCorps service for the 2013-2014 year at Loudoun Literacy Council. These past 11 months have been an incredible learning experience for me that I refuse to let go of quite yet! My experience teaching beginner level English learners is finished. But, fortunately I will be back for another year to continue teaching intermediate and/or advanced learners and tutor students individually.

Working for a local non-profit in an area that is deemed “affluent” and learning of the socio-economic hardships and the difficultly of the language barrier of so many of my students has helped me better my perspective of the community of Loudoun County. Seeing my students in the classroom and learning of their struggles has kept me motivated in LLC’s mission to change lives through learning. The class sessions that I have taught, including the most recent summer term, has left me inspired. The students who have passed through our classroom doors are so determined to learn the language to not only better their daily life experiences but that of their friends and families, and often times, their children.

I have developed an attachment to my beginner level learners and have seen their growth since the early months of October and January to now. Their desire to keep coming back and continue their learning experience in the classroom is incredible.  Students arrive to class coming from an 8 hour work day or from caring for their children all day to sit for 2 hour sessions and learn a foreign language, makes me realize what the phrase, “hard work”, really means.

I have learned so much about developing a lesson that combines different learning styles, grammar, life skills, vocabulary, and pronunciation. I’ve learned since October, when I first entered into the classroom, that I can do this and that my students encourage with their willingness to learn. Students dedicate approximately 8 to 32 hours per session to learn the language that we so often take for granted. I have covered topics from time and money to asking and giving directions. My students have learned the complexities of basic English grammar such as the verb “to be” and “wh” questions. They have learned so much vocabulary and have practiced pronunciating words in English that are even tricky for native English speakers!

I am also truly grateful for my teacher assistants, Kathleen, Tina, Beth, Erin, and Robbie, for volunteering their time to help me in the classroom, and more importantly, help our students achieve a better grasp of the English language. Their motivation to help and see our student’s thrive is also a motivating factor for me to continue my experience in the classroom and working with our incredible Adult Literacy volunteers.

I am also grateful for my AmeriCorps team member, Susan. She has taught me what the word passion really means. Her incredible patience and her adaptability and flexibility, has definitely rubbed off on me. She is such a great team member and we were able to work so well together. My experience would not have been what it was without her. I’m sad to see her go, but I am excited for her to come back to the D.C. area in a year or so, so we can reunite!

Working with the Loudoun Literacy Council community and staff members and working as a team member in both the classroom and administratively has taught me so many lessons. This 2012-2013 AmeriCorps year was such a great post-collegiate experience for me and I encourage any recent college grad or young professional to dedicate a year or two of their lives doing national and community service. It has been the most rewarding experience that I have had so far in my life.

I cannot reiterate how excited I am to continue my service with Loudoun Literacy. To be a part of the continued positive transformation that has been developing over the past year for LLC is amazing. I cannot wait to see what’s next for the organization and for our future English Language Leaners!

You’ll hear from me again soon!

Susan’s Reflections:

With the arrival of August, my time as a beginner level ESOL teacher for Loudoun Literacy Council has come to an end.   On August 9th, I will say goodbye to Loudoun Literacy Council as an AmeriCorps Member.  Fortunately, I will be in the area until late September, so I will be able to volunteer and help with September’s registrations and volunteer training.  In October, I will start a new journey with my husband as we return to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for a bit.

It is hard to summarize my year of experience in a few short words.  When I started my year with AmeriCorps, I was unaware of how special and touching this year would be to me.  I remember being unsure how to talk to people on the phone who spoke little English, and then being nervous on my first night of teaching.  In reflecting back, my lesson plans have improved greatly from my first term of teaching to my last term of teaching.  I have learned new techniques in the classroom, and I have worked hard to make the classroom more interactive and more focused on my specific students’ goals.  I have also noticed how much I have grown in confidence in speaking in front of others.   Most importantly, I have truly learned about the adult immigrant communities in Loudoun County and other nearby counties.  In the past, I have worked with international students at different colleges and in Vietnam, but this AmeriCorps experience led me to work directly with the local immigrant community who have everyday struggles, who are hardworking, and who are motivated to learn English in order to have a successful life for themselves and oftentimes their children in the United States.  With the new GED class program we started, I had the fortunate opportunity to hear why each student wanted to take the class.   Hearing their stories truly makes me appreciate the small things in life even more, and it makes me motivated to serve in every community that I may live in the future.

There will be certain lessons and certain stories that I will remember from my classrooms this year.  Every class had different dynamics, but each class was just as great as the one before.  Throughout this year, I had students apply and receive library cards, a student check out her first book at the library, a student open up a bank account, students get jobs, students form friendships with classmates outside of class, a student receive her Green card, and a student pass her Driver’s License test.  I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments throughout this year of teaching.   At the end of the day, despite how tedious lesson planning can sometimes be, watching my students improve their English skills and increase their confidence with each class and term has been one of the most rewarding parts of teaching ESOL.

I am thankful for my assistants, Jackie, Laura, and Radhika, who all helped me grow as a teacher and helped our students improve their English skills.  With my first exposure to volunteer management, I have truly enjoyed training new volunteers and then seeing them shine in the classrooms and in tutoring.  We could not function without our dedicated volunteers.   I will miss our volunteers though I know they will be in good hands with Claudia, Carrie, and the next AmeriCorps Member.

Last, but not least, I could not have enjoyed this year of service without the staff of Loudoun Literacy Council.  As a small staff, we have all come to know each other, and I’m thankful for the friendships that have now been formed.   I’ve been fortunate to have Claudia as a great supervisor who pushed us to acquire experience in our career field and wanting the best for us.  I also am grateful for Carrie, who brings energy and dedication, to the job every single day.   Carrie and I have spent countless hours together and brought out the best of each other.  I know the next AmeriCorps member will learn a lot from her and the rest of the staff here.

For my future plans, I hope to stay involved in the ESOL field either as a career or volunteer experience.  Teaching has been a rewarding experience, and I truly enjoy working with adults and helping them reach their fullest potential.

If you would like to continue to keep in touch, you can connect with me on LinkedIn here or email me at my personal email here.  I hope that I am not away for too long, but I will always carry this experience and all those who I came to know over this year with me wherever I go.   Thank you to all that made my year of service one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

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Thanks to everyone who came out for Candace’s farewell party June 24th! We had a lovely time with our community partners and friends celebrating not just Candace’s retirement, but all the hard work she’s done here at LLC. Take a look at a few pictures of our little fiesta:

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Although spring is more commonly known as the season of new beginnings, this summer is turning out to be a time of change for us here at Loudoun Literacy Council.

At the end of June, Candace Kroehl is retiring as our Executive Director and Tanya Bittenbender, the Director of Development & Community Relations, is transitioning to take over her role. Candace has worked hard over the past three years overseeing both the Family Literacy and Adult Literacy programs, writing grants, and strengthening community partnerships all around Loudoun County. And according to an employee in the office who shall not be named, she is by far the best executive director LLC has had.

But luckily we have Tanya to take her place. Now this is just my opinion, but…I think Tanya is related to the Incredibles. Except instead of saving the world from scorned villains, she channels her multitasking energy towards changing lives through literacy. Whether it’s starting new ESL classes or organizing our annual corporate spelling bee, she continues to find ways to make the organization stronger. My words of encouragement for you, Tanya: Rock on!

Also, later this August, Harman Sidhu and I will pass the figurative literacy torch on as we finish our AmeriCorps contract and welcome the new members to the LLC team. For me, working at Loudoun Literacy Council has been a wonderful experience in that I’ve met so many interesting and extremely grateful students, worked with steadfast volunteers who give so much of their time to help our cause, and been part of a supportive and just plain fun group of coworkers. I will definitely miss the camaraderie we’ve developed. And, not to speak for Harman, but I’m totally gonna speak for her when I say she would agree.

So this summer will be full of goodbyes and hellos, but as we say in the office: you can leave LLC, but it’ll pull you right back in. I know Candace, Harman and I will be helping out in the future for Loudoun Literacy Council in some way.

And in case you haven’t noticed, another new thing to pop up here is this blog. We want to be better in touch with you all — volunteers, donors, passersby on the worldwide interweb… Welcome! Use this online space as a platform to ask questions, get resources or just get connected to people like you who are committed to making people’s lives easier and better through education.

Talk to you soon!

– Sabrina Berntsen

Americorps Member

Loudoun Literacy Council

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