Meet Pat from Jefferson County Literacy Council
By Victoria Deterding
In what year was the U.S. Constitution written? Who wrote the Federalist Papers? If these questions seem challenging, imagine answering them in a language that is not your native one.
Welcome to the world of U.S. Citizenship test preparation! Tackling these questions and developing general reading, writing, and speaking skills keeps tutors and learners on their toes. As a volunteer at the Jefferson County Literacy Council, our featured tutor Pat Giese has been guiding students through the special process of becoming U.S. citizens since 2010.
“Each and every person who goes to interview and passes is cause for celebration,” shares Pat. Pat, who holds a Bachelors in Nursing and a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling, identifies empathy as a powerful tool to connect with students. Her enthusiasm as a life-long learner and easy smile helps learners feel at ease to problem solve and identify areas where they need extra support.
She worked with over 75 learners, with at least 30 of them becoming U.S. citizens. Thus far, each person who goes to interview has passed, and each new success story is cause for celebration.
When asked why literacy is important, Pat pauses and adds thoughtfully, “the command of a person’s language and the ability to read is fundamental to educating yourself and being curious about the world. [It opens the door] to being able to form your own ideas, and to ask questions.”
Part of the citizenship exam tests language fluency through one’s ability to make small talk and discuss generalities with ease. Beyond rote memorization and proficiency with the standard list of 100 civics-related questions on the exam, students have to be prepared for whatever may come in an interview. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is always changing and shifting their rules.
To prepare, learners in Pat’s group classes read out loud – which lets the material soak in through hearing the word, seeing it, and pronouncing it. After achieving proficiency at the 100 questions, learners create sentences and identify the pieces of language used in each one. This type of literacy cross-training builds dynamic English skills.
Students who have passed the test share their experience with others. The learner community in Jefferson County, Pat notes, is well-connected and supportive. In class, they often walk through a test appointment. Playing the role of the official, the tutor will swear in the learners, asking to see their green cards, and prompt them to sign the back of their photos. Going through the steps builds confidence.
Determined to earn their citizenship, these learners have resumed meeting in person, armed with masks, social distance, and hand sanitizers to prevent COVID. As soon as the USCIS resumed in-person interviews, Pat felt it was important to meet learners face-to-face. This way, she explains, they can be prepared for the test experience whenever it may be scheduled.
Citizenship empowers learners and further integrates them into their communities. These new U.S. Citizens are often eager to vote, and Pat helps point them in the right direction.
Pat remains committed, feeling strongly about volunteering and giving back to her community. “Today, I try to do volunteer service that feeds both the body & the mind. I also volunteer for our local food pantry when they need help delivering groceries to seniors/disabled folks during the COVID pandemic.” Pat adds, “My future goals are to continue to tutor as long as there are students who need our help.”