23rd Annual On the Road to Literacy Conference

Thank you to everyone who helped to make the 2014 conference a success!

LVI names Marty Gabriel as Partner of the Year


Conference Schedule

8:30 a.m. Registration
9:00 a.m. Welcome Session
9:30 a.m. Round One Workshops
10:30 a.m. Round Two Workshops
11:30 a.m. Lunch
12:30 p.m. Round Three Workshops
1:30 p.m. Closing Session

A special thanks to all workshop presenters!

Tutor of the Year Award

Mike Bradt


When Mike began tutoring in 2008, he planned on tutoring in Summit from 9 A.M. until noon. At the tutor training session, he heard that tutors were needed in Cicero and also signed up there, where he was quickly tutoring five students from 9 am until 2:00 pm. The following year, he added Tuesday to his tutoring schedule because of a shortage of tutors at our Hodgkins location and took on three new students there. He is still tutoring at all three sites. On Tuesday, in addition to tutoring, he is now our first volunteer site supervisor at Target in Hodgkins. At Target, he keeps the attendance, makes phone calls, and supplies books and materials as needed. In addition to tutoring up to five students at St. Francis of Rome in Cicero on Wednesday, Mike also comes in early to set up the tables and chairs and stays afterwards to break the tables down, put away the chairs and vacuum.

In addition to over 300 hours of tutoring, Mike presents at every new tutor training session, where he shares his creative yet practical teaching strategies. On the tutor evaluation forms, many of the tutors comment that Mike’s presentation was the most helpful part of the training. He also creates helpful student handouts and shares them with tutors and students.

In 2008, Mike designed an EXCEL program for us to store our data. Every year, he updates the program to meet our changing needs. This year, he began helping us enter new student and tutor information, and every month he enters the attendance as we no longer have a student worker.

Before the mobile classroom was retired this September, Mike had also been helping to maintain the bus such as changing the light bulbs and fixing door locks When it was time to move the materials for the bus and set up a resource room in our office in the fall, Mike was the first one to arrive with his dolly!

At our spring fundraiser, Mike not only volunteers his time the day of the event, but also comes in the week before to help with setup. Even for the tutor/student appreciation party, he picks up the refreshments, helps set up and clean up, and runs the games for the students’ children. He also picks up the book donations that we receive throughout the year from various schools, libraries, and book stores.

Mike is currently working with 9 students at three different locations. Not only do his students improve their academic skills as shown by their improved test scores but they also develop the confidence to strive for and achieve more challenging educational, employment, and personal goals. Mike’s ability to provide students the tools necessary to achieve their goals has resulted in two of his students obtaining employment for the first time, and two others taking on more responsibility at their jobs. This year he is helping one student prepare for her citizenship interview.  When Mike’s students leave the program, it is almost always because they have achieved their goals.

Mike’s enthusiasm is contagious and his patience and generosity are limitless and his ability to connect with students of all ages and from diverse cultural, educational, and economic backgrounds is truly inspirational!

Outstanding Tutor

Casey Spargaaren, Pui Tak Center, Chicago

“Casey is a very good fit here at Pui Tak,” says his nominator, Sarah Swetz Huang. Not only does he speak Chinese, but he was a phonics major in college. He works with students of all levels, helping to improve their reading and pronunciation, and is passionate and creative in finding ways to help his students. Casey is currently working with a student who would like to get his GED and possibly go on to college. Though currently at an Intermediate ESL level, the student now is taking a pre-GED class. “He hopes to use his English to serve people in America in whatever ways he can. Part of his success is definitely in part due to Casey!”

Outstanding Tutor

Ann Hopkins, Jump Start/Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, St. Charles

“Neither snow nor sleet nor dark of night deters Ann Hopkins from her tutoring,” states nominator Melissa Auer. Ann has tutored for the past 2 years at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, which is a correctional facility for adolescent boys. She provided over 70 hours of tutoring in 2013, always on time, always prepared and always submitting timely reports. She provides a consistent, affirming presence to her students, something very valuable in the sometimes chaotic world of corrections. She is non-judgmental, accepting each young man at face value and treating him with kindness and respect. She encourages them to do their best and to make positive plans for the future.


Outstanding Tutor

Jason Kaiser, Howard Area Community Center, Chicago

“Jason is one of our most hard-working, dedicated tutors,” states his nominator, Jennifer Mensah. Jason has been a tutor for over a year and works non-stop to provide a high standard of learning. He is always well-prepared and works with a diverse range of students, from phonics to GED. One of his students came to the program with a vocabulary of about 200 words. She needed a job to support herself and a young child. Jason improved her career readiness, helping to create a resume and search on-line for jobs. She now has a full-time job. Currently working with two students, one has made a 1.5 GLE gain. The other student has yet to be tested, but says “she has the best tutor in the program!”


Outstanding Tutor

Maria De Santiago, Project CARE/Morton College

“I became an ESL literacy tutor because I like to believe that there are no limitations in life…and with the right help people can reach their dreams and goals,” states tutor Maria De Santiago. A former ESL learner herself she took college courses and achieved a certification in Early Childhood Education. Nominated by Irina Cline, Maria has donated 83 hours in the past year. Her students have shown excellent results on BEST and the reading section of the TABE tests. She is always searching for new teaching methods. One ESL student was not successful with traditional ESL classroom instruction, saying she was always nervous. Maria created a nurturing learning environment that made the student relaxed and comfortable. As a result the student has not missed a session in 6 months!


Outstanding Tutor

Olga Delgado-Cano, Family Start Learning, Chicago

“Olga is an exceptional tutor – she demonstrates persistence, perseverance and stubborn determination on a weekly basis,” says her nominator, Barbara Burger. Olga has donated 371 hours in her first 7 months of tutoring.  She works with ESL students and believes all her students will learn English because she proved it can be done, becoming a United States citizen on her very first application. She is always prepared and eager to learn new ideas. Olga makes learning fun by using board games, puzzles and improvisation in the classroom. She shares her experience and knowledge with her learners and they share their hopes and dreams with her.


Outstanding Tutor

Ryan Rhoades, Indo-American Center, Chicago

“Ryan might not have been with us very long but he has become one of our most dedicated tutors,” explains nominator Laura Smith. Ryan has been with the program 7 months, while attending school full time himself. He is always on time and prepared with a lesson plan and eager to start class. His class is full and the students “adore him.” The first week he tutored one student, the student learned to write the letters of the English alphabet, but by the fourth week, the student was forming sight words and “fun” words while playing Scrabble! The learner showed incredible improvement and confidence. After two months the student had to move and leave the program, but Ryan, the “beginner” has continued, teaching his classes with enthusiasm, humility and humor.

Outstanding Tutor

Vera Beard, B.E.S.T. Adult Volunteer Literacy Program, Chicago

“Mrs. Beard can be counted on to be at Alpha every Monday at 12:30. You never have to wonder if she’s coming…,” says her nominator, Shirley Jenkins. Mrs. Beard has volunteered over 100 hours in the past year  In addition to being very reliable, Mrs. Beard seeks out resources on-line, on T.V. and in the newspaper, “using whatever she can get her hands on” to use in her tutoring. Her current student is a man who renovates buildings and, thanks to Mrs. Beard, he is beginning to be able to read contracts, something very important to his work. His SORT score has nearly doubled, bearing great tribute to the valuable work they are doing together.


Outstanding Tutor Awards (continued)

Andrea Birkmeyer, Pui Tak Center, Chicago
“From the time when Andrea started tutoring at Pui Tak Center, she has demonstrated an eagerness to get to know her students and help them succeed in learning English,” explains her nominator, Allison Lewis. As a result, her students treat her with respect but are also comfortable asking questions. During her year at the Center, Andrea has worked hard to brainstorm ways to teach multi-level groups of students and “has used several techniques to keep all students engaged and learning at an appropriate level.” The majority of students who have worked with Andrea for over 10 instructional hours have gained a level on the BEST Literacy exam, and 4 out of 5 in her phonics class showed a measurable gain in their skills.

Ernie Bish, Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills
Describing Ernie as “exceptional,” his nominator, Kipp Cozad, goes on to say he is “friendly, helpful and always ready to lend a hand.” Erie has been a volunteer at the College for 2 years, donating over 100 hours in 2013. Currently he is working with a student in his 50’s who reads below the third grade level. The student had lost his job after 30 years with the same company and was facing the reality of the job market. He decided to focus on improving his reading skills and was matched with Ernie, who has gone “above and beyond to make his student feel at ease.” The two men have bonded and their unique relationship is apparent to everyone. 

Karen Bressler, Pui Tak Center, Chicago
“She is a shining star and one of Pui Tak’s best tutors,” states Karen’s nominator, Sarah Swetz Huang. Karen is dependable and always well-prepared. She searches for real-life materials to use with her students, so they can easily apply them to their own lives. She is comfortable asking for help and resources when needed. One of her students wanted to improve her job skills so she could obtain a job. Karen helped her to write a resume and practice interview and conversational skills. This year the student was able to transition from ESL classes to ABE, where she is now at an Intermediate level. “This would not have been possible without Karen’s help!”

Karen Brosnan, Howard Area Community Center, Chicago
Creative, enthusiastic, energetic and reliable are the words used by nominator Theresa Hale to describe Karen Brosnan. As a volunteer at Howard Area Community Center for the past year and a half, Karen has donated over 50 hours of tutoring. For the last year Karen has been working with a young man, searching out and integrating techniques and relevant activities that will keep him interested. Karen’s passion for teaching shines through in all she does and this, as well as her reliability and consistency, has been an important factor in her success as a tutor. The student’s scores on the Best Test show they are making significant progress and their great tutoring relationship will help ensure that continues.

Sintra Dukecordier, Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills
“Sintra has been successful in helping students reach their educational and personal goals,” wrote her nominator, Kipp Cozad. Sintra works full time but manages to make time to tutor two students.  Her friendly, cheerful attitude has made her a pleasure to work with at MVCC.  Sintra has been working with one of her students since 2012 and during that time they have become good friends, and have found ways to find the humor in studying vocabulary. She was a little nervous at first in tutoring, but now describes it as “an amazing experience” and is “grateful for the connections she and her student share.” Sintra says he always has a story or an example to go with each new word that makes the two laugh.

Natasha Matza, Albany Park Community Center, Chicago
“Natasha’s consistent record of helping beginning-level learners achieve English literacy and speaking skills makes her an extremely valuable member of our program,” wrote her nominator Karen Parillo. Natasha has been volunteering at the Center for two years and has donated 117 hours in the past year. Each time a student reaches his or her goals, Natasha is willing to take a new assignment. Her gentle, compassionate manner is appreciated by students new to the English language, some of whom have had very little schooling in their own country. She has worked with students from India, Somalia, Yemen, and Togo. “Not every tutor has the ability to tutor learners who are at such a basic level and to help them make real progress.”

Karen Obert, Jack Ehrlich Literacy Program – Anixter Center, Chicago
“Karen goes above and beyond to ensure her learners are engaged and making progress towards achieving their goals,” according to nominator Lesley Kartali. Over the past year, Karen has donated a total of 75 hours to Anixter, a program for adults with disabilities.  She has shown “persistence and flexibility throughout,” and does an excellent job of finding materials. One of her students had problems with hour long classes. Recognizing this, Karen split the sessions in two though it forced her to add an additional day to her schedule. Her current learner is interested in long division and algebra and at the six month mark has mastered long division, and is on his way to achieving his long-term goal of  learning algebra.

Connie Pavur, Moraine Valley Community College- Literacy Program, Palos Hills
“She is adored!” states her nominator, Kipp Cozad.  Connie is a retired special needs teacher and has been volunteering in the Literacy Program for the past four years. She brings “a sincere passion and genuine interest” to her work with students, readily welcoming new students and making people feel at ease. She has worked at two locations, mastered the art of working with small groups, and works one-on-one when needed. In Connie’s class of 6 students, all have demonstrated at least one level gain after six months. She is a “true friend” to students and staff alike and they “look forward to working with Connie for many more years to come!”

Sarah Phillips, Pui Tak Center, Chicago
“Sarah works hard to find materials that will be engaging and useful for her students,” states nominator Allison Lewis. In teaching a class on Restaurant English, Sarah searched out on-line materials, including videos, to show her students authentic restaurant scenarios. She “continually seeks new ways to engage her students through interactive activities,” and will brainstorm and modify materials to make them even more effective. Pronunciation drills and role-plays help keep her students engaged. In her last class, all of Sarah’s students who had completed at least 10 hours of instruction showed improvement in their mastery of Restaurant English, which will improve their chances in the work place.

Biswas Pradhan, Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European and Latino Immigrants of Illinois/Adult Volunteer Literacy Program (CAAAELI), Chicago
“Biswas takes initiatives and is creative in helping students learn English,” states Sonya Arambula. Involved with this program for 18 years, Biswas uses the life experiences of his students to tutor them. He uses role-playing and field trips to places such as restaurants so that his students can practice their skills. While test scores reflect how much the students are learning, their remarks speak volumes: they “feel more confident going out and talking in English with people at the store and at other places…they do not need the help of their grandchildren for translation….they feel comfortable expressing their needs at any public or private offices.”

Denise Rankin, Mercy Housing Lakefront, Chicago
“Denise has engaged learners to express themselves and was even able to have a book published of their work,” says Dominique Davis, nominator. Denise has worked with the program for 12 years, donating 130 hours in the last year alone. Dedicated to improving low levels of literacy in her students, she runs a creative writing group where students have the ability to explore and use their creativity to express themselves. Denise uses her writing background, skills and expertise to engage students and encourage writing.

Thank you to all of our contributors for your time and generosity!
Jack Tuchten
Wholesale Produce
2404 South Wolcott Ave., #31
Chicago, IL 60608-5344
1340 South Canal St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Northwestern University Medical Students

Starbucks Coffee
Corner of State St. & Adams St.
131 South Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60603

New Readers Press
104 Marcellus St.
Syracuse, NY 13204