Literacy for Life: Reading for a better life

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal Leyco Rivas talks about her education and learning English.

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal Leyco Rivas talks about her education and learning English.

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Editor's note: This is the last of four weekly stories focusing on literacy as part of the third annual Literacy for Life initiative. The campaign culminates with today's golf tournament, which raises money for community organizations dedicated to improving literacy.

Leyco Rivas has a college degree in education management. She's worked as an elementary schoolteacher and, for 11 years, she trained and supervised other teachers with the department of education.

But all of that was in Nicaragua. When she moved to Carson City four years ago, she was turned down for a job as a dishwasher.

"I was so frustrated," she said.

She knew literacy in her new language was the key to getting ahead.

"I believe that education is very important," she said. "I knew I needed to learn English if I wanted to be educated here."

Taking English classes at Western Nevada College along with weekly tutoring sessions from Carson City Literacy Volunteers, she is poised to take her GED, a requirement to enroll in college here, as well as the citizenship test.

Once complete, she plans to enroll in classes at WNC then pursue a master's degree from the University of Nevada, Reno.

"In the future, when my English is better, I would like to have a job like the one I had in Nicaragua," she said. "I would like to work in the educational system."

Her tutor, Norman Subotky, is convinced she will do it.

"Leyco wants to do this, and she is doing this," he said. "I predict in two years she'll be working on her master's."

Subotky has been tutoring Rivas since September 2009, when he began volunteering with the program that helps children and adults learn to read, specializing in those with dyslexia. Tutors also work with students wanting to learn English.

Although he's taught classes at Pepperdine University in California, Western Nevada College and now at the University of Phoenix, he said tutoring with Carson City Literacy Volunteers has been his most rewarding experience.

"When you see students in a classroom environment with limited time, you hope you give them something they take away," he said.

"Here, I have watched Leyco's progress for two years. I can see the difference I'm making in her life. It's very satisfying."

Rivas, who regularly visited family in Carson City, met her husband - a native of Honduras who's now an American citizen - on a trip here nearly five years ago.

It's not enough, she said, to be merely competent in English. She wants to be a fluent speaker.

"I really believe I need to speak English very well if I want to be the educated person I am in my country," she said. "I know I need to improve my pronunciation, my vocabulary and my accent. I expect to speak English perfectly."

It isn't easy, especially when others sometimes treat her as if she's stupid when she struggles with new words. But she is committed.

"If you are persistent, if you are dedicated, if you really want to do something, you will do it," she said.

Subotky sees her progress and knows she will continue to succeed.

"I have told Leyco at some point she's not going to need me anymore," he said.

But she shakes her head.

"No," she said, "he's my friend now."

You Can Help

Carson City Literacy Volunteers specializes in teaching adults and children to read. Tutors are also needed to help students learn to speak English. To volunteer as a tutor or for more information about the program, call director Jan Whitemore at 885-1010.


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