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Community education provides volunteer opportunities

WORTHINGTON -- Since its beginning in the mid-1970s, Worthington School District 518 Community Education has evolved significantly.

Once consider primarily as a avenue for people to obtain their GED, it now offers a range of programs -- some of which are geared toward immigrant communities. A constant, however, has been the use of volunteer services, although not necessarily through coordinated effort.

A Capacity-Building Grant administered by the Minnesota Literacy Council in 2009 began bringing AmeriCorps VISTA workers to Community Education for literacy purposes. That led to the initiation of a volunteer program. The effort works to build on existing resources and create the infrastructure in hopes that the program would be sustainable, said this year's VISTA worker, Justin Stevenson, from Johnson Creek, Wis.

As a Literacy Volunteer Coordinator, Stevenson's work focuses on recruiting and training volunteers who will mainly serve as tutors for the various programs available through Community Education.

"I support them as they go through so we can report back to MLC on the advocacy of our tutors," Stevenson said. "Volunteers usually commit between one and a half to two hours a week."

Adult Basic Education

Available through adult basic education are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and citizenship classes. Citizenship tutors help students with civic questions, language skills -- if they have limited English proficiency -- and simulate the citizenship interview process.

"The mock interview helps students get through the (conversational) part of the test," he explained. '"It's a matter of how well you can speak, understand and communicate in English."

ESL tutors assist students with various language-related areas -- reading, writing, spelling, conversational skills and vocabulary. Tutors are not required to have prior teaching or tutoring experience. Instead, they work closely with the class teachers, who are responsible for preparing the teaching material, Stevenson said.

Even Start

As a family literacy program, Even Start allows parents who enroll in Adult Basic Education classes to simultaneously enroll their pre-school-age children in the pre-school section.

Even Start volunteers focus their time interacting with pre-schoolers during play time, reading to them and helping them with pre-literacy skills.

"We usually have a teacher and a para in the classroom, but volunteers also help with individualized attention," District 518 Community Education Director Jerry Fiola said.

EDGE Program

Stevenson said he is hopeful to recruit high-schoolers to volunteer for the EDGE program in the middle school, as well as get middle-schoolers to give time to the program in assisting with elementary students.

"High-schoolers stand to gain a lot through volunteer experience, especially when they're applying for colleges," Stevenson said.

Volunteers can work with licensed teachers in the math and reading sections, provide homework help or support enrichment classes ranging from arts and craft to nutrition classes.

"We've had a number of parents from different countries express frustrations with not being able to help their kids with homework, so we try to provide homework assistance," Fiola added. "Without a doubt, volunteers have been beneficial to community ed."