I’m an English tutor at Triton College. I assist ESL and GED students with their language and literacy skills. The Access to Literacy program is funded by an adult literacy grant through the Illinois Secretary of State. So these tutoring sessions are free. 

The program’s current coordinator is Katayun “Kathy” Kianzad. For her, this is not a job. It’s a mission to help immigrants like herself assimilate to American life. When she lived in Iran, Kathy already knew how to read and write English. She learned it while earning her engineering degree but did not know how to speak it. She and her husband immigrated to the U.S. in 2007. She experienced firsthand how difficult it is to master English.

Kathy found the Access to Literacy coordinator position to be perfect and started working as the coordinator on April 4, 2022. It’s a challenging job. She visits ESL and GED classes as part of her efforts to recruit students for the tutoring program. Then she matches each student with a tutor. 

ESL students come from countries all over the world, Mexico, Italy and Mongolia to name a few. Recently, there has been a large influx of Ukrainian students. There are over 400 students from this war-torn country who applied for ESL classes this spring. They are not the only immigrant group that needs help with English. 

Tutors range in age from 18 to 85 but most are retired. One of the retirees was bored at home. He is now tutoring 10 students. The Access to Literacy program provides free training to these tutors. Former teachers or tutors are not required to take this training. 

Students are tested to determine their English level. They also set goals for what they want to accomplish — measurable goals like getting their library card. The program also helps students with citizenship exam prep, written driving tests and filling out forms. It assists them with job applications and prepares them for job interviews. Some students are learning English so they can help their children with school assignments and read to them. 

As for the tutors, Kathy is looking for people who are compassionate, people who care about the students. She finds that tutors and students form a bond and often become friends. Tutors need to be punctual and respond to emails in a timely manner. They need to select teaching materials that are enjoyable for both the students and the tutors, who commit to a minimum of two hours per week. 

One of the advantages to being a volunteer tutor is the flexibility. Depending on the student’s schedule, tutors can meet with them days or evenings. They can meet their students at Triton or at a public library. Kathy visits the libraries in the district to pass out flyers about the program. 

I was prepared for my position by tutoring ESL students at St. Augustine College for five years. I also taught French-speaking college students how to write in English for three years. I found both jobs rewarding. 

I tutor at Triton two days a week for a total of four hours. I have two Ukrainian students and one American who is taking GED classes. We found teaching materials that are challenging for both of us. We have a lot of fun and their language and literacy skills are quickly improving. 

“I work with good dedicated people,” Kathy said. “The students know we care about them.” 

If you would like to be a volunteer tutor at Triton, please call Kathy at 708-456-0300, Ext. 3365, or email her at accesstoliteracy@triton.edu

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.