Helping others better understand English

Pleasanton Reads Project volunteers describe working on adult literacy effort

They volunteer to give back to the community, but what they don't expect to gain from the experience are the friendships with the students they tutor through the Pleasanton Reads Project.

"The students inspire me so," said Judy Thompson, a Pleasanton Reads Project volunteer since 2010.

"In some cases, they've left everything familiar behind. They look to me not just for help with language skills, but for insights into life's challenges."

Thompson shared her views during an interview at the recent annual brunch honoring Pleasanton Library's volunteers.

The library administers volunteer programs such as PAWS to Read (a weekly evening gathering of elementary school children who read aloud to dogs), Friends of the Library Book Sales (a group responsible for fundraising) and Bookleggers (classroom visitors who present and recommend books to students), plus those who work behind the scenes, such as volunteers who clean and shelve picture books.

Pleasanton Reads Project started as an adult literacy program 15 years ago and has since morphed to a "gateway to English learning," said program director, librarian Penny Johnson.

The transformation parallels the increased demand for English as a second language (ESL) instruction as more immigrants relocate to Pleasanton, as well as the reduced number of adult ESL classes due to government budget cuts.

The library's literacy program offers three levels of tutoring: one-to-one, small group and conversation classes. There are seven conversation classes held each week, including three Spanish-English groups. The classes are drop-in, and typically range from eight to 30 adults.

Currently, Pleasanton Reads Project has 89 volunteers teaching 112 adult language learners, but there are some 116 adults waiting to be matched to prospective volunteers.

Before taking on an assignment, tutors receive three hours of training. Throughout the year, shorter sessions for ongoing training are also available, along with hundreds of ESL workbooks and related resources and a roundtable forum for sharing curriculum ideas.

There is no one-size-fits-all tutor profile.

One of the program's newest volunteers, Ron Wacek, said he's naturally introverted, so he initially felt nervous about teaching. As a result, Johnson encouraged him to observe a weekly class plus a one-to-one tutor session, and Wacek now tutors two small groups weekly: a group of two Chinese-speaking students and a group of two Farsi-speaking students.

Wacek said his students tell him regularly how much they appreciate his time and attention.

To be eligible to participate in the Pleasanton Reads Project, prospective students must have rudimentary English skills. Many earned college degrees before moving to the United States. Several tutors reflected this trend by saying that while they teach students idioms and grammar, they also describe how to navigate unfamiliar American systems.

Mick Jones, a tutor since 2009, has taken his students to the grocery store, invited them to his home to celebrate Thanksgiving, and helped plan a Hawaiian vacation.

Over the years, Jones has taught as many as six students, one-to-one, per week. He said what has touched him most was receiving a "beautiful, hand-written note" from the child of one of his students, thanking him for teaching English to her mother.

A retired teacher, Melinda Leary appears to have the ideal background to teach ESL students, yet she was quick to point out that teaching experience is not a prerequisite for success. According to Leary, she's not preparing her students to earn a college degree in English, but how to function in Pleasanton.

Leary said she is also learning more about the greater Bay Area from a current student who takes family field trips every weekend.

"She and her family are really taking advantage of all the things the Bay Area has to offer," Leary added. "I look forward to hearing about her weekend trips every time we meet."

To learn more about the Pleasanton Reads Project, visit the city of Pleasanton's website or contact Johnson at 931-3405 or

Editor's note: Margaret Pereira is a 25-year Pleasanton resident and former journalist who has been a volunteer tutor for Pleasanton Reads Project since 2012.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Many thanks to these volunteers. These are the type of people who make Pleasanton great.

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:43 pm


Like this comment
Posted by Deport Cholo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2014 at 11:16 am


Have you volunteered?

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm


why would i volunteer information when it's clear that the question is coming from that ole who i mean...

VIVA Volunteers! VIVA!

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 24, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Correction: " know who I mean..."

I'm sure she has 147 wigs to hide under...tee hee...

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm

there are lots of ole fat hen types in plutonia that would give up their monthly check to have a date with Yours Truly...what a laugh...

i'm NOT amused...

over 'n out!

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

A cholo is stereotypically male, depicted as wearing loose fitting khaki pants or shorts, with white knee-high socks, creased jeans, so-called wifebeater white sleeveless athletic shirt, and button-front shirts, commonly plaid and flannel.
Cholos are known for starching and pressing their pants and shirts.
Some cholos, particularly older cholos (veteranos) or cholos wishing to adopt a more traditional look, wear formal wear inspired by zoot suit fashion, including dress shirts with suspenders, and fedora hats, but may still retain cholo elements such as a bandana or hair net.
Younger cholos typically participate in side shows to show off their immature mentality and disregard for public safety. They have penis envy for their white counterparts that drive macho monster trucks.
Older cholos typically sit on the porch in Livermore and drink bear. Their protruding bellies are indicative of their lack of self control like most liberal progressives! They are useless to accomplish anything and usually can be observed making incoherent comments on Pleasanton Weekly.

Bit Me!!

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