“Alright class, now which of these has food and which of these has actions?”
Kathy Fagan pointed to two words on the chalkboard in front of her: “ingredients” and “instructions”. For that day’s lesson, her small class of eight students discussed the concept of a recipe in their makeshift classroom in the basement of the Bustleton Library. In front of her was a table with an assortment of food-related items, ranging from olive oil to spices to dishes, objects to be used for a hands-on cooking demo at the end of class.
As a volunteer teacher working with The Center for Literacy, the nation’s largest nonprofit community-based literacy program, she has helped non-English speakers with their language barriers for about four years.
“The biggest obstacle for me is the fact that we work off site. There are no textbooks, I develop my own lessons, and there are no places to even make photo copies,” Fagan said.
Despite the struggle, teaching is something Fagan finds joy in. Her students, who currently come from Russia to Egypt to Belarus, showed intense respect and affection for her.
“Because of her, I can now speak English a little,” said Bintou Diabate, who moved to the area from Guinea, West Africa.
Fagan’s work is exceptional in that it has helped local residents in the area improve their lives in a multitude of ways.
“Sometimes people come to class to improve their English so that they can find better work,” Fagan said. “Many of these people are house cleaners or maids and want to find better pay. But some of them – mostly the elderly – come during the days for companionship, to connect with the community.”
Whatever their reasons for attending class, the students have flourished under Fagan’s care. But the problem is resources.
“We’re in great need of volunteers,” Fagan said. “The Center for Literacy provides everything, including training. For many of the higher-level speakers, they simply need someone to practice speaking English with.”