Each Monday, the Monte Alban Restaurant on Marine Drive in Astoria is the site of concentrated work.

Instead of restaurant prep, however, you’ll find that Monte Alban is closed for the day, and that owners Sara Maya and Juan Jimenez are working diligently with Clatsop Community College literacy tutor Dolores Levine to improve their English skills. The restaurant has become their classroom.

Levine, Maya and Jiminez work together for 90 minutes on a weekly basis. With the support of Literacy Program Coordinator Eileen Purcell, Levine has developed an individual curriculum that fits Maya and Jiminez’s varying needs.

The approach is based on phonetics and addresses pronunciation and listening to new sounds as well as vocabulary and grammar. Practicing speaking and distinguishing sounds are keys to success. Maya has been involved with other offerings at college and credits both the CCC Lives in Transition (LIT) Program and the American Association of University Women’s WINGS program for helping her gain the confidence she needed to finish her GED and move forward in her career.

In describing this experience, Maya remembers hiding in the back of the classroom on her first day. The LIT instructors pushed her to speak and write daily and to recognize her accomplishments. She finished the program with the confidence to enroll in a college-level speech course, which she successfully completed. Dolores tutored Maya throughout this entire process, making sure she understood what she was reading and assisting with the writing requirements. Maya’s long-term goal is to continue her education in accounting.

In 2012, Maya and Jiminez opened Monte Alban and now both are studying to improve their English skills. They also are helping others in the Latino community. Maya serves as a resource for other community members who face language barriers.

She and Jiminez, along with Levine, hope to expand the “classroom” at Monte Alban and create a safe and supportive learning environment for others. Because of their experiences, Maya and Jiminez often refer others to the literacy program and English as Second Language classes at the college.

Another volunteer literacy tutor, Marshall Tate, has held tutoring sessions with other students at Monte Alban, where a lively exchange of language learning occurs because Tate is an avid student of Spanish.

Levine began working with Maya and Jiminez when she arrived in Astoria in 2010. Her personal interest in promoting literacy was so great that she contacted the CCC program coordinator before her move to Astoria from Los Angeles. Levine notes that her parents were first-generation immigrants with little education, and that she helped them as a child.

Literacy tutoring was a natural fit because she has a profound understanding of the barriers others face when learning a new language. Levine is a passionate student of multiple languages, because she is the founder of Acústica, a local band that plays a unique mix of world music sung by her in multiple languages.

The CCC Literacy Program involves approximately 35 tutors who are assisting about 70 students. While many are working with native Spanish speakers, the program has also assisted those with Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Polish, Swedish and German as their first language.

Tutors need not speak the student’s first language in order to help expand English-speaking skills. For more information about the CCC Literacy volunteers, contact Purcell at 503-338-2557 or epurcell@clatsopcc.edu. Regular training sessions and free study materials are provided.

Patricia Warren is director of college advancement at Clatsop Community College

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