During her sophomore year at George Washington University, Courtney Stoner participated in an internship with the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council.
Years later, her parents have become mainstays within the organization, helping students and volunteers alike throughout the county, while discovering a passion for teaching and helping others.
Bob and Mary Anne Stoner had no idea their daughter’s internship would lead to this. With no teaching experience, the Severna Park residents casually expressed an interest in their daughter’s endeavor, which quickly led to much more.
“We said to her, ‘That’s great, we’d always like to teach somebody how to read,’” explained Mary Anne. “And she said, ‘Ok great, I’ve emailed the director and he’s expecting to hear from you guys!’”
Now, the Stoners are active tutors, trainers and advisors within the AACLC. They teach English language learners - English as a Second Language or ESL - as well as basic literacy for area residents.
“The literacy council lets you help each person with whatever their goal is, which is really neat,” Mary Anne said. “Our program is a one-on-one program, so you really are building a bond and trusting relationship with this person and you can just see them grow.”
Bob said, “It’s almost like you become a little part of their families, and then you get to see somebody on kind of a weekly basis, go from barely speaking English at all, to confident and capable.”
“You can see from the first day with some students, that they’re really not confident - head down, little eye contact. And now they come in happy and they’re just like, ‘Hey how’s it going?’” said May Anne.
Helping members of the community become more fluent and literate can help with seemingly minor interactions that most people take for granted.
“They’ll tell us things like, ‘I went in and I talked to my son’s teacher today’ and stuff like that,” said Mary Anne.
The tutoring can also lead to significant and potentially life-changing events achievements as well.
“I’ve been lucky to have a student for three and a half years, and she actually just bought her first house,” Bob said. “Buying a car, signing a lease, buying a home - it’s life skills.”
The program provides all the materials and plans but also allows volunteers a lot of flexibility, which enables them to cater to each student.
“With this program, for some it’s related to work and things,” Mary Anne said, “but other people want to be able to follow recipes, help kids with homework, or read notes from teachers.”
One student had let her license lapse and didn’t have the confidence to go in and pass the test.
“She had got her license with a whole class when she was 16,” explained Mary Anne. “When she was like 40, she let it lapse, and when you let it lapse in the state of Maryland, you have to do all of it again. She didn’t have the confidence to go in and pass the test.
“Well, we have to teach in a public place and the MVA is a public place, so let’s have class at the MVA! She got her license, and since then has also gotten a better job,” Mary Anne said. “She Uber drives part-time, and she’s become a mentor to middle school and high school girls who are having similar problems.
“It shouldn’t be a stigma that you don’t know how to read - it’s just another skill that you need to learn,” said Mary Anne.
The AACLC hosts large group training sessions for new volunteers twice a year at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church. The sessions focus on general training and then break out into what the tutors are likely going to focus on everything from basic literacy and ESL to test-taking and GED-prep, all aimed at adult learners throughout the county.
Learn more about the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council at www.icanread.org. If you are interested in supporting the organization by being a tutor, contact them to learn about training and the exciting rewards of teaching adults to read. There is a contact form available on the website, you can reach out by phone at 410-269-4419, or send an email to the program director at email@example.com.