A lot of people will walk out of a Pima County Public Library branch with far more than a book this year.

Thanks to the American Dream Grant, founded by the American Library Association and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, more than 1,000 teens and adults will have the opportunity to learn how to speak, read, and write English this year in free classes being hosted at a number of the county’s 27 library locations. 

The county’s library system was awarded a $15,000 grant, which those close to the project are saying will allow for expanded classes and increased participation from a variety of backgrounds. 

“The diversity of the program is really amazing,” said Kenya Johnson, library communications relations manager. 

In addition to Spanish-only-speaking students, Johnson said the program also has students from Iraq, Somali, Sudan, China, Guatemala, and Vietnam.

Tutors for each of the various languages are trained and provided by Literacy Connects, an organization formed in 2011 that was merged five literacy groups.

“Students really make a real connection to their teachers,” said Johnson. “The feedback we’ve gotten is that so many students are reaching and exceeding their goals to learn English.”

One of the tutors making connections is former Amphitheater School District teacher Linda Gilvear. She said the demand for English learning has grown exponentially since she began teaching in the program three years ago. Part of that has to do with the fact few other places, if any, offer a free way to learn the language.

But just because it’s free doesn’t mean students are any less anxious to learn, added Gilvear, who like all program tutors went through Tucson Literacy’s training program.

“There is such an enthusiasm,” she said. “The students arrive early. They stay late. As a former teacher, it is a pleasure to walk into a room with such motivation. When you have somebody walk in who has wanted to learn but hasn’t had a place to do so, you can see the relief.”

Comprised of 16-18 students, Gilvear’s class is just another testament to the program’s ability to teach to a diverse group. She has seven different countries represented in her class. 

“The comradery between them all is great,” said Gilvear. “If someone is falling behind, everyone supports them.”

Program statistics show that reaching those goals is providing other benefits as well, with 93 percent of students reporting increased self-esteem, and 97 percent saying they have increased life skills. Classes range from beginning to advanced. 

With the growing demand, more tutors are needed, particularly during the summer months. Interested tutors or students looking for more information can visit www.literacyconnects.org or call 594-5365.

The following library locations participate in tutoring:

Eckstrom-Columbus Library

Himmel Park Library

Martha Cooper Library 

Mission Library 

Murphy-Wilmot Library 

Nanini Library

Quincie Douglas Library 

Santa Rosa Library 

Valencia Library

Woods Memorial Library

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