Fox Valley Literacy: The Personal Connection
In February 2020, when you walked through the entrance of Fox Valley Literacy (FVL), you could hear the low sounds of conversations and laughter. A smiling receptionist greeted you and there was instantly a feeling of warmth and connection.
Building relationships are key to FVL’s success. The majority of instruction occurs between a tutor and learner meeting one on one. “With the number of people we serve, that’s a big deal!” says Brian Leone Tracy, Executive Director. This year, they will serve over 300 people through the close, personalized connection of tutors, and some small conversation groups.
FVL individualizes all of their tutoring. They use individual students’ goals and adapt instruction accordingly. This strategy keeps students coming back and progressing forward.
“Because we have a close relationship with people, they trust us in other matters. People come to us as a resource to navigate the community and that says a lot about the relationships that we have with our students. They know we’re safe and we’re there to help them,” Brian shares.
Students come to FVL for resources on mental health, housing, food security, and immigration. Brian notes how important literacy is to full participation in any community. Literacy provides “better health access, better education access, better employment access, and being self-sufficient. It is an integral tool in everything we do and everything we expect, for better or worse, out of people.”
This personal touch fueled how FVL approached COVID-19. Starting in March, they did individual case management with students and tutors to set up technology. They trained tutors in Zoom, WhatsApp, and Facebook. Some tutors have classes over the phone while others email and text to keep instruction going. When tutors and learners meet in person at FVL, they have Plexiglas dividers, wear masks, sanitize often, and check temperatures upon arrival.
“COVID is helping us better address digital literacy,” shares Heather Chantelois-Kashal, Adult Education Coordinator. As a text-based society, helping students develop digital and general literacy skills will help them overcome institutional barriers. Literacy is necessary for navigating things like PTO (paid time off), human resource practices, and insurance. These things make a tangible difference in people’s health and well-being.
And even more profoundly, literacy gives students a voice. Heather shares:
“Our students have so much to offer and come from the communities that have really shaped the U.S. and world history but are often over-looked and under-valued. I think literacy helps amplify their voices so that they can feel more full in society, like they belong, and continue to have an impact.”
You can hear more of their student stories performed by local artists from FVL’s “Faces of Literacy” event.