By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Candelaria Ojeda, a native of Guanajuato, Mexico, moved to the United States 17 years ago.
Several moves around the U.S. led the 39-year-old Spanish speaking mother to Stillwater three months ago.
“It’s difficult to speak to people,” Ojeda said.
Ojeda, who is employed at a Stillwater restaurant, said improving her language skills will expand her employment opportunities.
To accomplish that, Ojeda is participating in the Stillwater Literacy Council’s tutoring program.
“The program is very nice, I like it,” Ojeda said.
The agency provides free tutoring for adults 18 years old and older in basic English and literacy and English as a second language.
Executive Director Arlene Devers said students get involved in the program for many reasons. Some want to improve their reading level to advance in their job. Others might want to be a better reader so that they can read to their grandchildren. She said many international students feel isolated in Stillwater because of the difficulty in communication, and the program helps to build their language skills.
The council is one of 25 agencies that receives funds from the Stillwater Area United Way, which is conducting its annual fundraising drive. The United Way has set a goal of $875,000 this year.
“When Candy came (to the United States), she said it was hard for her to go shopping,” Devers said. “If she had a question, (store employees) would have a hard time understanding her.”
Tahereh Rogers, a 29-year-old chemist living in Stillwater, is a volunteer tutor with the agency and has been working with Ojeda.
“Her writing and reading (English) are phenomenal,” Rogers said. “It’s just conversational English we are working on.”
This year, the program features seven basic literacy students and 51 students who are learning English as a second language.
The ages of the students vary. Devers said the program included an 82-year-old man from China last year. She said the average age of students is about 27 years old.
“There are a lot are international students at OSU working on their Ph.D., and there are a lot of wives or husbands of students at OSU,” Devers said. “We also have some Hispanic students with no connection with OSU at all.”
The students are taught by 29 tutors, including former teachers, business professionals and retired business people. There are also several OSU students volunteering their time.
Instruction takes place in small settings, either one-on one tutoring or small groups of no more than seven students at a time.
Classes times vary as well, depending when students and tutors can meet. Classes are held at First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, the OSU Family Resource Center and the literacy council’s office at the Stillwater Public Library. Class sessions last for about 90 minutes.
“It’s not a great time burden,” Rogers said. “But it is rewarding. Candy is actually extremely intelligent and she practices at home. We don’t set goals, but you can definitely see the progress.”
The program features an award ceremony in April when students receive certificates.
Students participate in the program for as long as they desire. Devers said the literacy program has included students working with tutors for as long as eight years.
Ojeda said she would like to become proficient enough to be a tutor in the literacy program.
“She’d be good,” Rogers said.
The program is funded by Oklahoma Department of Libraries, which provides a $9,500 literacy grant.
The Stillwater Area United Way funds 5 percent of Devers’ salary and provides money for all teaching materials. The program also relies on donations.
In order to continue to receive the grant, the literary council is required by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries to test students before the tutoring sessions begin.
At the end of instruction, they are required to test students on their improvement.
For more information, write to email@example.com or call 405-372-2144.
For more information on the Stillwater Area United Way, call 405-377-2161 or visit www.StillwaterUnitedWay.org.