Meet Our Learners

In 2010, his ability to sound out words has dramatically increased, and he’s met several of his small goals. This year he took the Metro train system for the first time, having gained enough confidence to read the signs at the stations. He also learned to use a computer, memorized his multiplication tables, and what he is most proud of: “I have 20 stories from class at home and I can read all of them.” William’s personal growth and confidence have increased, finally dimming the pain of years of illiteracy, and we keep working with him towards his long-term goal: to be able to walk into the library and pick out any book he likes.



Read learners' stories in their own words in our literary magazine, Write from the Heart.

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635 Edgewood St. NE   Washington, D.C. 20017202-387-1772 (phone)202-588-0714 (fax)

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William West never got the chance to go to school when he was a kid. He has lived most of his life as an illiterate. For years, it affected his employment: numerous times he had to turn down promotions at Popeyes because he wasn’t able to fill out inventory lists and staff schedules. Later, he worked for a gas station where he was paid a few dollars a day to do cleaning, maintenance and landscaping. He knew he was being cheated but since he was illiterate, he felt he could do nothing about it.  Illiteracy affected not only his work but his relationships, as he has had a hard time maintaining good relationships with friends and with his kids (he thinks they are ashamed of him). William has been with LVA on and off for 17 years, but in the last year, William has finally admitted that he was running from his weakness because it was too painful. "I have always been a workaholic," he said.
Geraldine Green showed up at LVA with a sixth grade education and nowhere to live. In 12 months, Geraldine has not only secured housing but also moved through 3 levels of literacy classes on a sure path towards her goal of a GED. 

Geraldine always asks for extra homework, beyond what is assigned. In January, she showed up excited about a chapter book on Frederick Douglass which she had checked out of the library of her own initiative and was already halfway through—a remarkable step for someone who months before had been at the most basic literacy levels. Writing has been more of a hurdle. But through a written conversation with an instructor in class one day (communicating with only pencil and paper), Geraldine discovered that she could express her thoughts through writing regardless of spelling and grammar errors. Now Geraldine writes essays and paragraphs almost daily, having discovered a love of written self-expression. Math has come more slowly to Geraldine, but she surpassed her own expectations and memorized the multiplications tables over the summer. Her test scores show an increase of at least two grade levels in reading. We expect Geraldine to enroll in a GED program before too long, and even after she attains her goals, no doubt she will remain an avid reader, writer, and lifelong learner. 
Donnell Williams came to LVA in December 2009. Ask him about his educational history and he’ll passionately talk about his indignation at the DC Public School system, which passed him through each grade in special education. At the end of high school, he walked across the stage without being able to read his certificate of completion. He’s back now, at age 44, determined not to let his second chance pass him by to meet his goals: read a small book, the newspaper, his mail, or the signs and words he sees around him on a daily basis. When Donnell first came to us, he tested at the equivalent of a Pre-K reading level. Six months later, after much hard work in LVA’s Foundations class and after logging many hours with LVA volunteer tutor Mary Ellen Largess, Donnell had increased his reading level  by a whopping 17 points on the test, to about 2nd grade level. He can now read simple stories and books and keeps pushing forward to reach new levels. 

Beyond improving his own skills, Donnell has become an advocate.  In March 2010, the Mayor announced his proposed budget, which included a $965,000 cut to adult education programs. Donnell took action to write a letter and speak with the City Council. He became part of a team of letter-writers, protesters, and speakers that ultimately provided enough pressure to restore the funding to adult education.