Students sought to teach English to low-income adults

 

Terri Jennings, Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran and Barlow Principal Dr. Gina Pin meet in the gazebo at the Spinning Wheel Restaurant to discuss the upcoming launch of the Ledgeway Literacy Foundation. — Nancy Doniger photo

Terri Jennings, Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran and Barlow Principal Dr. Gina Pin meet in the gazebo at the Spinning Wheel Restaurant to discuss the upcoming launch of the Ledgeway Literacy Foundation. — Nancy Doniger photo

The founder of a newly formed foundation is looking for four good students to teach literacy and life skills to low-income men and women in the Danbury area.

Terri Jennings of Easton founded the Ledgeway Literacy Foundation to improve the lives on non-English speakers in the area. She teamed up with school Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran and Dr. Gina Pin, Joel Barlow High School principal, to make it happen.

The three met on a recent Friday evening in the gazebo at the Spinning Wheel Restaurant on Route 58 to discuss the program and the need for several more student volunteers.

Non-English speakers are often afraid to do simple things, like go grocery shopping, because they can’t understand the language, Jennings said. They are at a disadvantage workwise, so the goal is to improve their English to improve their job prospects and earning.

The idea for the foundation came to Jennings as a dream one night, “just like Harry Potter,” she said, referring to the world-renowned books by J.K. Rowling. Jennings approached McMorran about her idea, and he immediately embraced it.

“I thought we would have to hire teachers, but Tom suggested that students could be the teachers, rather than hiring tutors,” Jennings said. “So it’s magic.”

A lot of student must do service projects as a requirement for the National Honor Society, the Girl Scouts Gold Award, Boy Scouts Eagle or for their church group, McMorran said.

McMorran said the program fits with the Easton, Redding and Region 9 school-wide expectations built around the three Cs: Complex, community and communications.

The goal is to discover how students and community members understand the complex world they live in and to communicate the knowledge.

“Terry’s program does all of those things so well,” McMorran said. “There’s an affinity for our kids helping other people. What Barlow aspires to be at best is using education to help improve the lives of others.”

“From the Barlow perspective, what I really like is Terry’s program is bringing a way to open up our students’ world,” Pin said. “There is a certain living in a bubble aspect to our wonderful school and our wonderful towns, and I love that.

“This allows our students to see outside of themselves and really bring together all they are learning in a really beautiful way and to provide a genuine community service. We’re always looking for opportunities that mean something for the students and others. It sounds like a wonderful way to touch a life — or two or three.”

Jennings added, “Or eight. We’re hoping to get seven or eight students. We have four. The goal is to teach people to speak English well. If you to give them a way to speak English better you give them a leg up and empower them to make more money.”

McMorran said, “And to be treated more fairly and understand the law.”

“And not be taken advantage of,” Pin said. “They will learn practical English, including filling out forms.”

Classes will be funded in part through a $2,000 donation from Brian Mahony and Florence Mahony of Redding. Four students have already signed on to participate, but Jennings would like to be able to accommodate eight adults.

Jennings said the students will be men and women over 21. They will come to the Mark Twain Library on Thursday evenings between 6 to 8 p.m. She thanked Jen Wastrom of Redding for securing the venue.

“It’s going to be very safe, in a neutral environment,” Jennings said.

Jennings said she has hired a Brazilian painter to work at her house for many years, and her family developed a close bond with him.

“You don’t have to speak to each other to love each other,” she said. “My son has loved him from the beginning.”

The painter’s son, who speaks fluent English, and a friend have offered to help with the classes, she said. The need is great because many Danbury-area families speak a language other than English at home.

McMorran said that any anything like this needs a champion, a role that Jennings is eager to fill.

“We’ll start in the fall and see how it goes,” she said.

The Ledgeway Literacy Foundation is located at 458 Rock House Road, Easton CT 06612. Its mission is to provide basic literacy and life skills training to low-income men and women. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all programs and services are offered at no cost to participants. Academic programs and support services will be offered, by appointment, on Thursday evenings between 6 and 8 at the Mark Twain Library in Redding. All are welcome without regard for race, religion, color, creed, sexual orientation or national origin. To volunteer, make a donation or for more information, contact [email protected] or call 203-913-6101.

Terri Jennings, Brian Mahony and Florence Mahony meet to discuss the Ledgeway Literacy Foundation, which Jennings founded. The Mahonys donated $2,000 to get it started. — Austin Jennings photo

Terri Jennings, Brian Mahony and Florence Mahony meet to discuss the Ledgeway Literacy Foundation, which Jennings founded. The Mahonys donated $2,000 to get it started. — Austin Jennings photo

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