Lessons in life, North Port volunteers helping foreign-language adults

Kim Pike, left, and Mary Seyler at the Start Now! North Port office, where Mary is a literacy instructor. Classes are virtual due to the coronavirus. Pike is a project manager with Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County.

NORTH PORT — Mary Seyler is teaching a literacy class.

The retired New Jersey educator is into Lesson 2: The Family Reunion, a simple story that helps adults with intermediate English skills.

“Obnoxious … what does that mean?” Mary asked one student pages into the Lesson 2 workbook.

Pausing to gather her thoughts, the student in a thick accent responded: “Not pleasant,” to which Seyler and others in the class crack up laughing.

While there’s nothing unusual about older immigrants picking up literacy skills, what’s new is the virtual platform — the students are on laptop screens as a masked Seyler on her laptop glides through Lesson 2 of the workbook.

One student, in fact, was in Poland while the others were in their North Port homes, on their couches tucked away from COVID-19.

Seyler and others are tutors with Start Now! North Port, affiliated with Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County. Because of COVID-19, tutors use video platforms to run their classes. Seyler, for example, had her five adult learners on Zoom, each inside tiny onscreen boxes until chosen to read from “The Family Reunion.” Each must interpret the text, work on pronunciation, answer questions, finish up with Topics for Discussion or Writing.

“I am still amazed we are seeing you from Poland,” Mary shared with one woman whose granddaughter sat nearby. “You guys are doing very good … great!”

Seyler, a retired North Porter and career public school instructor, added later: “I love teaching. Loved it then, love it now.”

Start Now! North Port is modeled after a program in Nashville, said Kim Pike, a project manager with Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County.

The program in North Port has 200 or so students with dozens of languages. The goal is mastering enough English to work, find shelter, anything, really, Pike said. North Port has some 167 volunteer instructors.

Video was introduced in August. And there are nearly 340 adult students in the south county program. There is no cost for them; foundation grants, donations, a huge gift by the Dollar General and other sources fund instruction. The program works in partnership with the Sarasota County library system, Pike added.

“Adults have busy lives,” said Pike, “so setting aside time (to learn) is very hard. Their only obligation is motivation.”

Start Now! tutors meet with students for 60-90 minutes of instruction. A lesson plan guides the tutor. Tutoring in normal times is at the North Port Family Service Center, 6919 Outreach Way.

“Students will stun you and amaze you with their accomplishments,” Seyler said.


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