Shawano County Literacy Council, a volunteer run council nestled in rural Wisconsin, works with English language learners and adults who want to improve their reading and writing, many of whom work on farms. They also collaborate with the local technical college. Gini, a volunteer who has been with the council since the beginning, said, “[The Technical College] calls us and asks us for help with reading and writing basic English. They have asked for help with HSED students.”
With volunteer dedication, they are 27 years strong. “I’m proud of the dedication of our tutors especially during the pandemic this past year. Even though the majority of us are technologically challenged somewhat ourselves, we navigated tutoring virtually with willingness and a can do spirit,” says Melody Boyd, Board Chair and tutor.
During the pandemic, they provided Chromebooks (some from Wisconsin Literacy) and refurbished laptops to some of their learners. Currently, Shawano County Literacy Council is exploring connectivity options for their students. “We realized for the future, too, that virtual learning is here to stay; and actually we find that we can reach more students that way,” Melody said.
Being rural, they work with students from large farms such as Green Valley Farms. Tutors who work with those students focus on farm related terms to improve the communication between the farm workers and owners.
Farm work can be 12 hour days. Before virtual instructions, students, exhausted after a long day of work, had to drive 40 minutes into town to meet with their tutors. Now, they can connect remotely and more easily include instruction into their work and home lives.
Melody explained, “We are still learning ourselves. Most of the tutors who are tutoring virtually are doing it via Zoom or Google Meets or whatever really works for the learner. It’s exciting and we are learning right along with them.”
Literacy skills strengthen their community overall. Their students own businesses including a restaurant, a grocery store, a landscaping company and a bakery. Many students continue on to higher education and get job promotions. With their improved literacy skills, they attend school conferences and understand more about their children’s education.
Gini shared why she’s worked with the council for 27 years:
I love reading. If you can read, you can do anything! I enjoy the relationships I have with my students. It gives me great joy to see the lightbulb come on. The greatest thing my first student ever said to me was ‘Gini, I don’t think I need you anymore.’ And that’s my goal.