Kay Vigue, of Pleasantville, honed the skill of explaining things in a simple manner when she raised five children and worked as preschool instructor for 15 years.
Instead of running away screaming at the prospect of ever having to teach someone something ever again, Vigue, 68, brought her expertise to Literacy Volunteers Association Cape-Atlantic Inc., where she has served since 2002.
“I absolutely love teaching. It’s my passion,” Vigue said. “You have to be very delicate to introduce things without insult (to her English students).”
A lot of people want to give back when they are retire, Vigue said. Retired teachers, police officers and lawyers have all donated their time with Literacy Volunteers helping adults learn how to read or write in English, or both, she said.
Vigue is teaching her current student at the Absecon Public Library, but over the years, she has worked out of the Egg Habor Township, Galloway Township and Pleasantville branches of the Atlantic County Library system, she said.
While there are no sessions in residences or in private homes, Vigue said tutors have been known to drive into Atlantic City to work with their students. Students have to be at least age 18 and have to be very sincere about wanting to learn to speak and write in English, she said.
Vigue turned down parties and luncheons in order to keep her Literacy Volunteers appointments. She has no patience for people who complain about immigrants who can’t read or write in English.
In some cases, a job warrants English speaking skills, something that may be difficult if you’re from another country, growing up speaking a different language. Vigue worked two hours at a time, once a week for five years in the past with a woman from the West African country of Ghana.
“She was a dealer. They have to be able to speak English. You have to be able to play the game and speak English,” Vigue said. “They (the casinos) want dealers from different countries.”
Vigue has been working one-on-one with her current student for the past three years, and he has made tremendous progress, she said. He is American and from Ohio, but he dropped out of school, so she is helping him with basic skills such as reading and writing.
It is thrilling to help someone improve their ability to read and write in English, Vigue said. This is not the first time that she is tutoring someone who had not finished high school.
“It brings you so much joy. You see their lives change,” Vigue said.
The process of teaching someone to write in English is more much difficult than teaching them to read it because of all the grammar, punctuation and other elements involved with writing, Vigue said.
Depending on how hard a person is willing to work in their free time, a person can learn to read and write in English in a year even if they are starting with no prior exposure, Vigue said.
The hardest thing about teaching an adult how to read and write in English is to convince them that they have to do homework every day and practice both reading and writing in English, Vigue said.
“If they don’t do homework, they will not learn anything. They have to be dedicated,” she said.
Even though Vigue takes her responsibility to teach people to read and write in English seriously, she laughs easily and can use a lighter touch, which helps these relationships last for years.
Katherine Micale has been with Literacy Volunteers for the last 3 ½ years and currently serves as the program director. Vigue not only teaches students one-one-one, she also leads workshops to instruct her fellow tutors on how to teach clients how to read, Micale said.
“She communicates joyfulness, energy and encouragement to fellow tutors, staff and students,” Micale said. “She’s a lot of fun, always upbeat... Kay is a positive force.”
Since Vigue started working with her current adult student, he has progressed tremendously. He now owns a business, is writing a novel and is working as a personal trainer, Micale said.
“She was an inspiration for him to start his own book and to continue with the book,” Micale said. “He said, ‘He learned more working with Kay than in high school.’”
Vigue finds teaching adults easier than trying to provide instruction to children.
“They (adults) don’t run around,” Vigue said.
Vigue has only had one or two drop out after they started working with her in all the years she has been a literacy volunteer.
Another reason Vigue has been able to keep her students coming back is she makes sure they read about subjects that interest them, for instance, if you like food, you will read recipe books. If you like sports, you will read Sports Illustrated.
“They want to learn English. If you really want to help people, come and help,” Vigue said. “It’s one of the most valuable things you can do.”