literacy group

Literacy Group Seeks English Language Tutors

Reprinted Courtesy of West Valley View
Gullickson, Glenn. (2017, April 5). Literacy group seeks English language tutors. West Valley View, p. 19.


Helping someone learn the English language is an opportunity to influence a life, according to the leader of a literacy group that serves the West Valley.

“In today’s world, it’s becoming critical to speak English,” said Jan Cosgrove of Goodyear, president of the Southwest Valley Literacy Association, which serves Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Tolleson.

The group, which is observing its 40th anniversary, is seeking additional volunteers to add to its team of 95 tutors who teach English to more than 200 students, she said.

“It’s not like a classroom, it’s one on one or two on one,” Cosgrove said about lessons conducted by the group, which she called a “language skills organization” dedicated to helping students listen, speak, read and write.

For the tutors, it’s a chance to make an impact on a student’s life.

“The satisfaction it brings is amazing,” Cosgrove said. “It’s like you’re changing their life. It’s like you’ve opened a door for them.”

For the students, learning English means gaining a practical skill, she said.

“We do whatever they need,” she said.

Lacking command of the English language can limit a person’s opportunities, Cosgrove said.

Many students want the lessons to solve a problem, such as helping a child in school or gaining a job or a promotion, she said.

“These people are so dedicated,” she said. “They are so motivated.”

A 2011-12 study found a majority of students reported gaining consumer skills, improving employment skills and increased involvement in their children’s educational activities.

They also reported more involvement in community affairs and success in obtaining driver’s licenses and finding jobs.

Anna Lopez, 35 of west Phoenix said she started the lessons about a year and a half ago with the goal of helping her three sons, ages 11, 8 and 5.

“It’s something that I needed,” said Lopez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 15 years ago. “My kids sometimes laughed at me.”

She said her progress has been slow, but she reads books to her children and her husband recently encouraged her to speak English at home.

Lopez is one of three students tutored by Pam Marshall, who started volunteering a year and a half ago when she sought a project after she retired and moved to Goodyear.

“It’s been a fabulous experience,” Marshall said. “You get so much more out of it than you put into it.”

She said she uses pictures to convey concepts and challenges students to initiate conversations in English.

“The more exposed they are to English, the easier it’s going to be,” she said.

Additional tutors are needed because the number of students seeking help keeps growing.

Cosgrove said in the nine years that she’s been involved with the group, the number of students has doubled.

A majority of students are Hispanic, but she has noticed an increasing number of Koreans, who are often spouses of Koreans assigned to Luke Air Force Base.

Students range in age into the 70s, but most are 30-45 years old and a majority are women, she said.

Most tutors are also women, but Cosgrove said there’s a need for male tutors who can serve as role models for male students.

Cosgrove said some people hesitate to volunteer as tutors because they don’t know Spanish or lack teaching experience–factors she said aren’t disqualifying.

To become certified to teach, tutors get 12 hours of training over two weekends, she said.

“It’s about learning how to deal with non-English speaking people and how to teach successfully,” she said.

The teaching method doesn’t involve a school curriculum of English grammar, but is more like how a parent teaches a child, she said.

Lessons include role-playing, with the goal of building confidence to do such things as understand supermarket labels and restaurant menus, Cosgrove said.

“You need to know what you need to know to survive,” she said. “We need to help them from where they are to where they need to be.”

The philosophy is reflected in the title of the program’s textbook, Reading for Life.

Students are assigned to one of four learning levels, from those who lack command of the language to those who might be preparing to attend higher education, Cosgrove said.

Some students stay in the program two or three years, she said.

Tutors and students determine a schedule for 90-minute lessons as frequently as two or three times a week that are held in libraries, churches, and other public spaces, Cosgrove said.

Students pay $50 a year for the lessons and the group also obtains funds from community grants in the cites it serves, she said.

Most tutors are retired people, but there are some college students, Cosgrove said.

The ideal tutors is educated and knowledgeable, perhaps a professional person who is interested and caring about others, she said.

“They kind of become friends and counselors,” she said.

Tutors need to have time to prepare lessons and they are asked for a one-year commitment, but many volunteer for years, Cosgrove said.

“After the first year, they want to do more,” she said. “Once they start, it becomes a priority.”

Tutor certification sessions will be conducted Saturday, April 15, June 13 and June 10, 2017.

For information, visit or email the office at

Glenn Gullickson can be reached at