All I was told about the three new adults I was tutoring was that their names were Pedro, Yolanda, and Alfonso, and that their native language was a local Mexican dialect, Otomi, with Spanish as their second language.  Not having any idea what to expect, my carpool set out for Waynesboro.

We arrived and were welcomed warmly at the door.  As we rounded the corner into the living room, more and more kids kept appearing, who were also receiving tutoring.  In a fairly typical scene for Migrant Aid volunteers, we rustled around for a bit, trying to find space for everyone to sit, and finally I settled down at the kitchen table with the three adults.

We conversed for a bit in Spanish, and I asked if they had ever received English tutoring before.  They all shook their heads, so I started off with “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” etc.  and moved on to “One, two, three, four…” but it became clear that they already had at least those basics. 

In my experience, the migrant adults are generally very modest about the amount of English they already know, so it can be difficult to judge their skill level.  Happy to move on to more vocabulary, I brought out the Level 1 packets for “Clothing” prepared by Migrant Education.  We were even able to put some sentences together. 

I made motions to signal “It’s cold,” explained in Spanish, and after some prompting with “I need… significa ‘Yo necesito’…” they were able to say “I need jacket.  I need boots.  I need hat.” During this part of the evening, it became clear that they were very literate and somewhat familiar with the English pronunciation of words, since they were able to sound words out (with inevitable errors due to our senseless spelling rules) without hearing me say them first.  They were also very quick with the writing exercise in the packets.  This was a bit of a relief for me, since a common challenge in adult tutoring is limited literacy in Spanish. 

The learning fatigue started setting in, so we took a bit of break to get to know each other a bit better.  Pedro, the father, was very talkative and friendly, and discussed how difficult it was for him to learn English since he is constantly around people who speak only Spanish and when he meets an English-speaker, they often don’t have the patience to help him find directions or whatever other question he might have.

After the break we did some job vocabulary, learning how to say “I work/I worked at…” specific to their skills.  This part had some awkward moments when it became clear that they were currently looking for work, but we practiced vocabulary from their past jobs. 

We also worked on a practice job application with “Name:  Last, First, Middle” and things like that that can be very confusing for Spanish speakers who keep both their father’s and mother’s last names, and add their husband’s too.  I explained that Americans usually just keep either their father’s or husband’s last name, but that they could either make their mother’s last name their middle name or hyphenate the two.  They seemed to think this was quite silly, but they were glad to know how to introduce themselves to English speakers.

My favorite part of tutoring adults in the opportunity to discuss cultural similarities and differences, so I had a great time conversing with Pedro, Yolanda, and Alfonso.  I also greatly appreciated their patience as I broke back into my Spanish! 

A gently used, but much loved, Saddle Club book sat on the top of the pile. The comforting old book smell, that smell you get when you go into a library or a used bookstore, triggered a strong feeling of nostalgia. I gingerly picked the book up and remembered how I used to read that series for hours on end in suspense: would the horse get better so she could make it to that big race? Will she make up with her friend after they had that fight? Noticing my hesitation, the head coordinator gave me a moment to look over the donated books before giving me my task. The boxes, already categorized by age, were to be packed up in boxes and sent off to pediatric unit waiting rooms for children to enjoy.

At first, I was disappointed because this meant that I would not be able to be in contact with patients. The work was slow and calculated as I meticulous placed ten books from each grade level in the box. As I continued placing books in the box, more and more titles triggered childhood memories. Goosebumps books, easy readers and I spy picture books were all placed in one box; these were all books I had devoured as a child. It made me think of this task as more than just something to consume three hours. Those books used to make me forget everything for hours at a time. I DREADED being called for dinner and having to let go of the book.

I visualized a little boy reading the trucks picture book while waiting for a X-ray. The Barbie Step into Reading book reminded me of the time I read a Step into reading book to my little cousins three times in a row because they loved it so much. What happened to books? Books become movies and movies become video games. I tend to be an eternal optimist BUT maybe the little girl who picks up the Saddle Club in the waiting room will enjoy it so much that she will beg her parents to stop by the library. The library, of course, will have all the books in the series and she will be able to pick up the first in the series and read all the way to the end. Research shows that those who read more, read faster and absorb academic material better. So maybe this girl will score highly on her standardized test scores and end up at the second best public university. ☺

Your resident bookwork,


As a pre-med student, you embrace every opportunity available to gain insight into the world of medicine that you so desperately desire to join. Volunteering in the Medical Intensive Care Unit has provided such an opportunity and though it does not entail clinical experience such as observing surgeries and other operations that we students usually pursue, the MICU has many other redeeming qualities.

I have become a part of the car that drives the hospital. I am no transmission or steering wheel. I’m not navigating through triple bypasses. I am not the emergency brake or On-Star button that will immediately provide crisis support when hostile patients threaten their life or others. I may be as insignificant as a Hokie bumper sticker or as unappreciated as a consent form that (as I learned last week) may not be so insignificant after all. It is not as much as what I physically do or witness in those three hours each week that keeps me coming back; it is what I learn.

You learn basic workplace etiquette that can be applied to any office scenario, but when it involves others’ health – the antes are raised. When a nurse attempted to approach a superior last week with an urgent problem, she was met with an antagonistic attitude that only compounded the issue. Both soon became upset and inherently there productivity was lowered. Such simple amenities like treating co-workers with respect and without frustration is what greases the system to function smoothly.

And then you see situations that contrast the latter, such as when the University Hospital’s second-in-command made an appearance to aid with a surgery. Arriving with glowing enthusiasm, he epitomized the co-worker who you always wanted to work alongside. Even venturing out of his (very important) agenda to introduce himself to me, he illustrated the vast difference common courtesies can have.

Collect some of the smartest people in the world, put them in a room with a variety of sick people and unless they get along, you may find more problems than solutions. Hospitals don’t have enough rooms for patients, much less egos. You learn to leave the attitude and personal problems at home, so we can all enjoy the ride.

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