When Michelle Marks ’15 began teaching an advanced-level ESL class through Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, her students were complete strangers to one another. Each came from a different country; they had little in common except for a shared desire to improve their English.
But as Marks asked them to talk about their favorite foods and holidays, the walls between them started to fall away.
Soon, her students were talking about the Day of the Dead and the Chinese Moon Festival and carpooling to class. On Thanksgiving, many gathered to share a meal together. “This made me so happy because while they were building their language skills, they were also building friendships,” Marks said.
Marks has served with Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven since the first month of her freshman year as part of the UNH Community Work Study Program. She has taught every level of literacy class, from survival to advanced. Her students are U.S. citizens and recent immigrants, adults who she says are extremely motivated and who continually inspire her.
Although Marks is a communications major with an eye on becoming a film producer, she is now a veteran teacher, developing lesson plans and revamping a plan on the fly when a need arises, as it did when she asked a class, “Who would you call in the case of an emergency?”
“To my surprise everyone shrugged and not a single person had an answer,” she said. She knew that many of her students were parents, so they practiced talking through different emergency scenarios and reviewed medical and health terms.
Marks cares so deeply about literacy that she plans to remain with Literacy Volunteers until she graduates. It is just one part of her busy life, as she juggles a full-time course schedule with two part-time jobs and serves on UNH’s Academic Service-Learning Advisory Board. A member of the Delta Alpha Phi International Honor Society, Marks would like to intern at a film production company, study abroad and eventually travel the world, visiting the places her students have called home.
“I love to learn about other cultures,” she said. “I also love being able to see my students grow in confidence while achieving their goals of thriving in American society.”