UD in Service: Students, Faculty Volunteer in English Literacy Program
Date published: Aug. 1, 2018
Strengthening and enriching our communities, both local and global, is an important
part of living with a dedication to truth and virtue. We seek to nurture not only
our own families but also our human family. Both near and far, UD students, faculty
and alumni live out this commitment to truth, to virtue, and to humanity as a whole
in various acts of service, helping others to improve their lives and always improving
their own in the process. In “UD in Service” stories, we will explore these occasions
of hope, faith and inspiration.
When Associate Professor of English Bernadette Waterman Ward was a graduate student in California, she tutored non-English-speakers through the
Reagan Amnesty Program. Her children remembered this, and in 2013, one of them pointed
out that there was a similar program at St. Luke’s right here in Irving: Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT).
St. Luke’s is the only Spanish-speaking parish in Irving, and there is a huge need
for this type of program. Each volunteer teacher commits to teaching either one or
two nights a week, with 25 students in a class. The teachers need not know Spanish,
although Waterman Ward, who does speak Spanish, says that such knowledge can certainly
However, sometimes finding these volunteer teachers is a challenge. Two years ago,
the program at St. Luke’s was in danger of closing down due to lack of teachers, so
Waterman Ward did the obvious thing: she asked her UD students, specifically those
whom she advised through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, if any of them would
be interested in helping out. The program thereby ended up with a surplus of volunteers,
and ultimately five or six UD people participated. This past spring term, Jacquelyn
Lee, BA ’19, and Claire Blute, BA '19, each taught one night per week, as did Waterman
"The UD volunteers have been wonderful; we're so happy to have them," said Yolanda Coronado Lepkowski, the ESL site coordinator for the LIFT program at St. Luke's.
Currently, the program offers four terms per year — one per quarter. Students in the
St. Luke’s program are exclusively Spanish-speaking and hail largely from Mexico and
El Salvador, with other South American countries also intermittently represented.
Each student pays $25 for books and administrative fees, and they learn basic, useful
English, enabling them to do things like read road signs and help their children with
their homework. One woman wanted to be able to better advocate for her 3-year-old
son, who was born prematurely and suffers developmental delays as a result. Others
are learning to run businesses or simply to participate more fully in life in the
However, it isn’t only the students who learn from their volunteer teachers; Lee,
a rising senior English major at UD, feels that she learns from them, too.
“It exposes me to a broader view of the world,” she said. “These people don’t have
the same types of lives and struggles as most people at UD. Some remind me of people
I knew growing up in Houston.”
The attrition rate in the program is sometimes high; as noted by Waterman Ward, “Poverty
makes life complicated.”
Yet, as observed by Lee, there is joy, too, even in the midst of these complications.
For example, she worked with a pair of brothers who were always joking, with her and
with each other.
“Sometimes it’s hard to communicate new concepts without knowing Spanish, but the
students help each other understand,” she said. “I want them to learn English, and
they want to learn it too. There is so much goodwill in the room there, and that helps
bridge the language barrier more than anything else.”
Often for these students, it is only a deficiency in their grasp of the English language
that hinders their success in the U.S.
Maria Wasilewski, BA ’17, who volunteered in the program during the spring of 2016
while writing her senior thesis on Mexican education, recalls one such student.
“She was quiet and shy to speak, but very intelligent,” said Wasilewski. “During the
first week or so, she mentioned that she had two boys and was hoping to improve her
English to help them adjust to life in the U.S.”
This woman also mentioned to Wasilewski that she had a master’s degree in education,
but was unable to use it until she spoke English better.
“She, I believe, embodies the purpose of LIFT,” said Wasilewski. “Intelligent and
hardworking, there are no boundaries to her success, but she was unable to use her
talents without a better grasp of English. At our final class, she gave me a note
that read, ‘Maria, you have helped me more than you know.’ I keep that note still,
to remind me that the everyday things I do can have a significant unseen impact in
the life of someone else.”
In the photos: Waterman Ward teaching on campus at UD.