Photo by Flickr user San Jose Library/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user San Jose Library/ Creative Commons

Teresa Gallardo, a 30-year resident of Boyle Heights remembers visiting her local public library since her children were young. Today, she mostly drops by to check out materials for her grandson but found the library has been a helpful tool in improving her English.

Gallardo participates in the Limited English Proficiency program at the R. L. Stevenson branch, one of the programs offered by the Adult Literacy Services department at the Los Angeles Public Library to those who struggle with limited reading and English skills.

English proficiency and literacy affects a large number of residents in Boyle Heights, where more than half of the population is foreign born and about a third of adults have less than a high school education. Many parents want to help their kids with homework but can’t. Others want to communicate with loved ones’ doctors or teachers, read and understand important documents, or simply follow written instructions for a job or housing application, but have difficulties because of limited reading or English skills.

While many low-income residents cannot afford to pay for private or even low-cost literacy services, programs offered by the public library are free. For those who want to learn at their own pace, the Limited English Proficiency program is a self-guided program where adult students use books and videos to help them improve their English and staff provides assistance as needed. For more personalized training, the Adult Literacy Program pairs students with volunteer tutors who work one-on-one with them twice a week to improve reading and literacy skills for a minimum of six months.

Additionally, parents of children under the age of five who are enrolled in the Adult Literacy or Limited English Proficiency programs are eligible for free children’s books through the Families for Literacy program.

For Gallardo, the benefits of English proficiency programs in her community have been key when communicating about her elderly mother’s health at hospitals. “I can explain what she has,” she said about her conversations with doctors. She also expresses gratitude for the assistance she has received from literacy coordinator Alicia Chavarín, whom she characterizes as having “lots of patience.”

Programs like these can be a great benefit to many adult students in Boyle Heights. However, to continue reaching out to more who can benefit from them, adult literacy programs also need volunteers. Tutors work in the Adult Literacy Program empowering other adults by teaching basic reading, writing and functional literacy skills. Volunteers receive seven hours of instruction in tutoring techniques and at the conclusion of the training are certified as Laubach Literacy tutors.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer tutor or for referring a student, contact Alicia Chavarín, literacy coordinator, at either the Benjamin Franklin or Robert Louis Stevenson branch libraries in Boyle Heights. You can also contact the literacy coordinator at any of the Library Literacy Centers throughout Los Angeles or visit and click on “Adult Literacy.”

Lupie Leyva is a Boyle Heights native and senior librarian at Robert Louis Stevenson Branch.

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