Helping grade-schoolers over a language barrier

Tutors: Four volunteers receive the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award for helping children learn to speak English.

Education

May 19, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a downstairs room of the Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, several Korean-American pupils with limited English skills are being tutored by volunteers.

"Afford - to be able to pay for; to be able to do," said Andy Shin, 11, reading from a vocabulary book.

His tutor, Nina Zhang, immediately followed with a sentence to help the fifth-grader at St. John's Elementary School in Ellicott City understand how to use the word.

"If you have enough money, you can afford the ice cream," she said.

Andy's eyes lit up, and he nodded that he understood.

For the past three years, pupils struggling to overcome the language barrier have received help through the Bookworms Club, an after-school program that helps newly immigrated English Speakers of Other Languages with tutorial support.

Four of the program's volunteers - Di Li, Lovy Kim, Sueah Lee and Nina - received the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award, given to Howard County residents "who, as volunteers and professionally, give above and beyond any expectations." The students were honored last week during a luncheon at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville sponsored by the Association of Community Services of Howard County.

The Bookworms Club, which was started in 2001, has arranged tutoring for more than 60 ESOL pupils by more than 30 volunteers under the auspices of the nonprofit Christian Volunteers for Children. The program is held at two churches in Howard County and one in Montgomery County.

The four Howard County high school volunteers have tutored more than 1,500 hours as a team, often eating meals on the go and rescheduling other activities to meet their weekly obligation to the program, according to a nomination form submitted by the program's director and founder, Sue Wagner.

Nina, a River Hill High School senior and daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants, said she was surprised to learn that they had been selected for the award.

"We've been doing this for three years, and we knew that there were others worthy of the nomination," she said.

Di, also the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants, added that she, too, was surprised because she did not think many people knew about the program.

"We're honored," said the River Hill High School senior, whose father is a physical scientist and whose mother works in the checking department of a photo company.

During a break in their tutoring sessions at the church, the students underscored the importance of lending a hand to youngsters who need it.

"Our parents are immigrants, and we just wanted to help others succeed in this country," said Nina, whose father and mother are a professor and accountant, respectively, at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Di was asked by a friend to help with Bookworms, and her dedication to helping others kept her with the program.

"I realized how much people really do help," she said, adding she came to the United States when she was age 2 and worked hard to learn English.

Wagner, who came to this country 25 years ago and struggled with English, nominated the tutors for being "exceptional, competent, committed and caring."

"Without them, I couldn't do it," she said during an interview at Linden-Linthicum. "I've seen too many children going down the wrong side of life, and they just need a nurturing environment."

Wagner's passion for children is evident as she speaks about helping them.

"I cry a lot when I think about all the children who need help," she said tearfully.

Although Bookworms has received financial assistance through Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, Wagner hopes to obtain grants and donations to expand the program to Towson and Timonium. She wants to serve other children of diverse cultures.

"I'm leaning on the teaching of Jesus and knocking on doors for help," she said. "I'm so happy to see that the parents are grateful for the program."

Also lauded during the luncheon were Laura Lee, program manager for the Parents as Teachers program; Carol Beatty, executive director of the Arc of Howard County; and Karl "Frank" Turban, founder and volunteer of Serenity Center, a nonprofit organization that supports those overcoming addictions.

To contact the Bookworms program, write to Christian Volunteers for Children, P.O. Box 165, Clarksville 21029.

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