Group leader Kathy works on lesson plans. Photo by Cathy Kaplan
Sabrina and Adriana studying together. Photo by Cathy Kaplan

By Shawn Steen
Literacy Network of Dane County

Classes at Vera Court Community Center this year include ESL (English as a Second Language) and Citizenship Study for adults living on the Northside. Both programs can have far-reaching impact. With improved English, adults are better equipped to find well-paying jobs; help their children with homework; communicate with doctors, teachers or neighbors; and most importantly, feel more confident and comfortable moving through the community they call home.

Literacy Network is a local nonprofit that partners with neighborhood centers like Vera Court to offer free classes and tutoring programs to immigrants and refugees looking to gain citizenship or improve reading, writing and English-speaking skills. 

“All of our tutors are trained volunteers from the community,” said Shawn Steen, director of volunteer services for Literacy Network. “And we could not do this important work without them.” Many folks think they need to speak Spanish or have professional teaching experience to volunteer in the programs, but neither is true. Students come from over 70 different countries and speak hundreds of languages, but all of them speak enough rudimentary English to work with tutors. 

“Volunteers just need to be patient, kind and reliable,” Steen explained. “We train our tutors very well, provide weekly lesson plans for them based on the goals of their assigned student, and have a group leader there every week to offer help as needed. We want to set our students up for success, so we work hard to set our tutors up for success.”

Literacy Network is currently recruiting tutors and group leaders for the spring 2020 semester. For more information and to apply, visit or call Shawn Steen at 608-244-3911.