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English tutors recognized for their help

Dave Frank
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

Patrick Blackburn-Elliot struggled to piece together English sentences in school because of his dyslexia, but his troubles with the disorder led him to want to help other people learn the language.

The Carson City man said he admires the adults he helps learn English through the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada because they’re trying to improve their lives despite how hard it can be.

“English is such a gift once you master it,” he said.

Blackburn-Elliot was one of 85 volunteers in the program who were recognized for their help as volunteer tutors during a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday.

The reason he does the work is hard to express, he said, but it’s exciting to “see the light bulb go off” when students understand something new in English.

“Without it,” he said of the language, “you’re stigmatized and held down.”

Florence Phillips, who started the free volunteer-driven program of more than 100 students in 2004, said the students use English to get better jobs, earn their high school diploma, go to college and, like Maria Molena, help children with homework.

Molena said she wanted to learn what her son was doing at school and better understand what he was interested in. She often asks for help to understand some of the things her son is talking about, Phillips said.

Teaching people like Molena helps people improve their communities, she said, calling it “the most fulfilling and rewarding experience I have ever had.”

Maria Robles used to be a student, but is now a tutor in the program. Phillips knew a family that wanted to learn the language and thought Robles could help them better because they knew almost no English.

Robles said she likes to help other people, and is using what she learned to get a GED to find a good job.

Another tutor, Rosemary Agulo, said some people who don’t know English avoid learning the language by working in places where they don’t have to know English.

The people who do learn are trying to improve themselves, children or community, she said, and she’s happy to help them.

“It feels good,” she said.

Blackburn-Elliot said it’s satisfying to know a student mastered a new part of language or a word with his help.

“They’ll tell you, ‘I used that word yesterday and I used it properly!'” he said.

– Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.