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Student Success Spotlights - 2018

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It's a common myth: That refugees have little to offer and need a lot of support. Well, there's a grain of truth in it - any one of us would need some support to start over in a new country, especially if we didn't know the language.

But just as would be true for you if you were forced to flee to another country, refugees often have a wealth of experience and skills, sometimes highly technical, and always have much to offer their new homelands. And study after study confirms that the economic benefits of settling refugees in a community outweigh the costs of doing so.

All of this is true for Vanessa. A highly experienced professional, with specialized work experience in pediatric oncology, Vanessa fled Venezuela with her husband and new baby when violence and scarcity threatened them all. Arriving with asylum status in Houston, this tiny family wanted nothing more than to get established and turn this strange new place into home.

Her husband was able to find a job fairly quickly, but Vanessa's English was at the Low Beginner level. There was no way she could work in even an entry-level job, let alone use her medical skills. And without a second income (and far from family), childcare for her 3-month-old was impossible. She was caught in a vicious circle.

Vanessa registered for classes at Literacy Advance but knew she couldn't come regularly. She made an appointment with Diana, the Literacy Advance Transition coach, to talk through her options. Vanessa had two clear goals:

1. To get her driver's license;
2. To improve her English enough to get a job.

Vanessa uses Burlington English at home, using a specialized headset, while her baby naps

Among other referrals to community services and partner agencies, Diana recommended that Vanessa join a Literacy Advance pilot of Burlington English, online software for learning English. The pilot was made possible by funding from United Way THRIVE, and was designed for exactly this scenario - for people who wanted to practice English but couldn't commit to the regular schedule of an in-person class.

Well, this turned out to be exactly what she needed. 

"Burlington English is such a good opportunity for me!  I can study English at home and I am learning a lot. For the first time, I went to the bank and spoke to the teller in English. My husband was not there to help me, but I was able to do everything in English. I know that my English is not perfect but the lady at the bank said she could understand me." 

With some successes under her belt, Vanessa's confidence grew - and she was more willing to try new scenarios and situations where she would have to speak English.

"It was so hard when I didn’t understand English and couldn’t speak to people. Now I can go to the store and ask for sizes and things I need to buy."

Her new-found confidence and English skills came just at the right time:

"My baby was sick, but I was able to talk to the doctor in English. I told the nurse my baby was sick and he was not eating. I did all that in English and they understood me!"

In just a few short months, Vanessa has accomplished the first of her two goals - and not only did she pass her driver's license test, she did so in English.

"I learned to drive here in Houston, and I passed my driving test! I have my driver's license now, and I feel so proud of myself. When I took my driving test, I was afraid I would not understand the woman from the DPS. I could not look at her while I was driving for the test. It was a lot of pressure but I did it. I passed my driving test in English!"

Vanessa has her second goal firmly in her sights now. She's using the feature within Burlington English that helps users with industry-specific language, and she's studying all the English terms for the medical procedures she's already familiar with. We know it won't be long until she achieves her second goal, too.


When you give to Literacy Advance, your support goes a long way. Not only do you provide classes and opportunities for students like Vanessa, you're underpinning the success of whole families. Vanessa will not only soon join the Houston workforce - and help kids with cancer to get better! - your investment in her helps her be a better, more confident mom.

Will you give today and support a family like Vanessa's? Thank you for being the hero they need!

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