Despite the enormous challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Adult Literacy Services at the Los Angeles Public Library never stopped working. We knew that the literacy goals of our learners wouldn't disappear because of the pandemic, and if they were willing to work through the challenges, so were we!
For those learners who were comfortable using new technology, we made virtual one-on-one tutoring possible for the first time. Tutor and learner pairs could use our Zoom account to continue learning or use the tools on their smartphones to video chat, practice conversing in English, and more. We also facilitated dozens of English conversation classes that met online. These conversation classes made it possible for our local learners to continue improving their English-speaking skills and made it possible for learners across the country and globally to join our learning community.
"It is a much richer experience than I would have ever thought," said Laurie. "You have no idea how much you will get out of it!"
It may seem that the move to virtual learning would hurt the learning experience, but we found that wasn't necessarily true! We recently spoke with Laurie Feldman and Cesar Gomez, a tutor/learner pair working remotely, to find out how they felt about virtual learning:
Cesar, an architect, moved to the United States with limited English skills. He inquired about adult literacy help at a local university, and they recommended the library. Cesar thought he would come to the library and just be shown books on the shelves. He was surprised to learn that there are so many options in the literacy program—classes, one-on-one tutoring, walk-in tutoring, and other programs. It was a lot more than he expected!
Cesar was matched with Laurie, an adult literacy tutor, in January 2020, and they began working together one-on-one. They were only able to meet in person a few times before the pandemic struck. But for them, the transition to remote learning had many upsides.
They both love the transition to working remotely! Being home on Zoom, they feel freer than they do in the library because they don't have to worry about being quiet or disturbing others. Since they know only the two of them can hear what is said, they laugh loudly if they choose, and they are not self-conscious about being in public.
Laurie added that there are many tools on Zoom, such as screen sharing, and they have even been able to share other things like their houseplants and art on their walls, which they wouldn't be able to do in person. She recommends working remotely for the social aspect alone: she felt her time with Cesar kept her centered during the shutdown. Laurie liked having Cesar to talk to while everyone was separated. She also noted that pairs aren't tied to one branch library when working online. They can be together even from great distances. For them, it worked out nicely.
They both added that it is nice not having to travel to a library location: they don't have to deal with the stress of traffic, and they can just be comfortable in their own homes. Laurie is also thankful for virtual tutoring because she moved during the pandemic, and if it hadn't been for the ability to work via Zoom, they would have been forced to stop working together.
Laurie says Adult Literacy Services allows her to help someone and enrich her own life simultaneously:
"It is a good program for anyone! The ability to work via Zoom means more safety, and it enables people with limited mobility to volunteer as well. It has been a tremendous personal experience filled with personal gain, and you don't know exactly how much it will impact you until you do it!"