The Literacy Network of Stanislaus County recognized five students and two other people devoted to the cause.
The 23rd annual Celebrate Literacy Awards Celebration took place via Zoom on Friday, March 4. It was put on by Stanislaus Literacy Centersalso known as LearningQuestwhich helps immigrants and other adult clients.
Two students received the High School Equivalency Award. One each got the Literacy Award and the English as a Second Language Award. A current student won a scholarship. And an educator and a volunteer tutor received awards named for longtime literacy supporters.
The organizers provided these details in a news release:
English as a Second Language Award
Arazo Ekhlas and her husband and two children are refugees from Afghanistan. In Kabul, she studied law at a private university to learn about her community and empower Afghan women by teaching them about women’s rights. She also volunteered in a women’s rights community, where she taught Afghan women to write, improve their knowledge and manage their time between homemaking duties and studying.
In the United States, Ekhlas found that the English she learned in Afghanistan was not adequate and enrolled in LearningQuest’s ESL program. Her listening, speaking, reading and writing skills improved so she can now confidently go to stores by herself, make appointments, read a magazine or book, and write an essay.
Ekhlas is determined to get an HSE diploma next, start an online computer programming class, and study for her US citizenship.
Laura Soto was born and raised in Mexico City, but fearing for her family’s safety, they moved to Modesto in 2004. She quickly realized that not knowing any English brought many challenges. She worked on a warehouse assembly line, where she could not communicate with her colleagues. She learned some English when her children began school, but she wanted to learn for herself.
Soto was able to take Spanish High School Equivalency classes and earned her diploma. In 2018, she entered the LearningQuest adult literacy tutoring program, where her reading and writing improved from second-grade to eighth-grade level. Laura continues tutoring.
“It is very important to learn English and to grow and move forward in any area and achieve your goals,” she said.
High School Equivalency Award
Nicolas Garibay dropped out of high school to become his father’s primary caregiver. After his father’s passing in 2007, he went through some hard times. By 2021, he had been incarcerated three times and released from prison after a six-year incarceration.
Garibay decided to apply for a Workforce Development grant to enroll at the Cal-Trade Welding School, but he needed a diploma. He enrolled at LearningQuest, where he quickly excelled, passed all his tests on the first try and graduated within five weeks.
Since taking classes at Cal-Trade last October, Garibay has a job prospect with PG&E and had his parole reduced from three to one year based on good behavior and positive outcomes. He is all set to graduate from Cal-Trade on March 22.
High School Equivalency Award
Adilene Zamora Ortiz was 16 years old and living in Mexico, trapped in an abusive relationship and forced to drop out of high school. For six years, she lived in impoverished conditions, working in the fields to support herself, her son and her abusive partner.
Moving to San Diego, and her son almost 3 years old, Ortiz gained the strength to leave the abusive relationship. After joining a GED program in Salinas and attending a school for medical assisting in San Jose, she decided to follow her real dream of going to law school, but she needed her diploma.
Ortiz got married to a supportive partner, and after the birth of her daughter, enrolled in LearningQuest’s HSE program. She earned her diploma in just five months and plans to begin classes at Modesto Junior College this year.
Enjila Farokh Ahmadi, a refugee from Afghanistan, received a $500 scholarship. She had to adjust to a new culture and educational system, so she began classes at Turlock Adult School to help with linguistic and communication skills. She advanced from ESL to Basic Adult Education to the high school diploma program.
Ahmadi plans to start a fine arts/design business encompassing projects from jewelry to home décor. She also desires to obtain skills in entrepreneurship, human resources and financial, office and assets management. She envisions turning her business into a publicly owned corporation within 10-15 years. She plans to enroll at MJC in the fall.
Betty Mulnix Service Award
John Arnold has tutored since 1985 and began tutoring with LearningQuest in 2018. In the past three years, he has tutored an entire immigrant family — husband, wife and young son. He meets with the whole family, sharing storybooks with the child and making it a family tutoring session.
“For me, the tutoring relationship is very special,” Arnold said. “It is pure fun to see my students light up when they manage to demonstrate improvements in reading. Also, sitting down with another person for 90 minutes each week almost always results in great conversations about every imaginable subject. I always get as much enjoyment out of my students as they do from me.”
The family says Arnold is a mentor and friend who walked into their lives. He tutored the wife to pass her citizenship test. He brought children’s books for their child. He taught them the language of living and working in the US Their son refers to John as his “English Grandpa.” When he did his prekindergarten homework, he listened to a recording of “Grandpa John” tutoring him in English.
Jean and Clyde Dunlop Award
From childhood, Catherine Ferrell wanted to be a teacher. Her academic accomplishments include a bachelor’s in English communications, K-12 multiple subjects and reading specialist credentials, and a master’s in reading leadership.
Ferrell taught for 40 years, serving as a K-8 mentor teacher and instructional coach, and as adjunct reading professor at a university. Coming out of retirement in 2019, she joined KidsQuest, a LearningQuest program providing free one-on-one tutoring for children with dyslexia. She has expanded KidsQuest services, recruited tutors, garnered new students, built trust with their parents, fund-raised and advocated for literacy.
Ferrell continues to study cutting-edge strategies to address learning disabilities and passionately helps parents looking for answers or resources, tutors who have questions or need support, and children who are struggling with reading. She launched a new KidsQuest program, the Reading and Spelling Academy, to help children enjoy reading and writing by learning about word history, origins and structure. Using many different methods of learning to support her students, as well as create resources on dyslexia for pediatricians, she is making a great impact with families in Stanislaus County.
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