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Bringing Literacy To Nassau

Being new to a country with a radically different culture can be hard enough, but it can be even harder when mastery of its language eludes you and makes you feel like an outsider in your new home.


Originally founded in 1968 as the Literacy Volunteers of America and based out of Freeport, Literacy Nassau teaches hundreds of Nassau adults who are functionally illiterate to read every year—and also help many foreigners who wish to get a better grasp of the English language.


Barbara Randell, who calls Plainview her home, has been an educator almost all of her life, teaching at the elementary level for 30 years. She initially worked in Massachusetts and Manhattan before finishing out the last nearly 20 years of her career in the Levittown school district. 


However, upon retiring from teaching five years ago, Randell still felt the spark of education within her. That’s when she got involved with Literacy Nassau.


“Teaching is a passion for me ... I just couldn’t give it up,” she said. “Even though I was retiring from it, I still love that interaction, I love instructing people and helping them.”


Randell took the necessary training classes and eventually got her feet wet with her very first assignment—a Japanese woman who had moved to the United States with her husband and was trying to improve her English fluency.


“I started out with one student, and she was fantastic,” said Randell. “A lot of the husbands work for American branches of Japanese companies. Most of our students’ husbands work for Canon, so the wives are going to be here for a few years, too. With one student, I went through her whole pregnancy, and I felt like her American grandma. You get very involved with your students.”


Randell eventually expanded her involvement in Literacy Nassau, and currently, her students typically number anywhere from six to eight. She meets with them weekly at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library on Thursday mornings, where she puts them through the paces of the (at-times confusing) language of English.


“Mostly, they want conversational help,” she said. “They want to be able to feel comfortable to go into a bank and do their business, or go to a market and ask for something that they don’t see. Or if they’re going to meet with their child’s teacher, we might go over some questions that they want to ask so they can get the proper phrasing down.”


Japanese resident Hannah Yoshizawa is currently living in Plainview with her husband, who is employed at Canon USA under a work visa. While grasping the basics of English, she has been attending Literacy Nassau’s classes for the two past years in order to improve her grasp of the day-to-day nuances of the language, in order to better acclimate to her new home.


“I can not live here without speaking English, and sometime I have found it difficult to live because I’m not good at speaking English,” she said. “They really help me ... for example, my son’s homework, I can help him with it now. Or when I go to buy something at the grocery store. It’s really helpful.”


Sue Rachell, a Plainview resident and fellow Literacy Nassau instructor who teaches with Randell at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, is also a retired teacher who taught business at Plainview High School for 25 years.


“It’s in my nature ... just being able to teach, and to be able to give back something,” she said. “Also, I wanted to something a little different. I worked with 16- and 17-year-olds for so many years. It was time to try a new venue, and this was it. And because I’m exposed to so many different cultures, they educate me as much as I educate them. It’s terrific.”


Randell echoed her colleague’s sentiments, saying that helping her students, learning about different cultures and forming enduring friendships with her students makes all of the hard work worth every single second.


“I get great satisfaction out of this,” she said. “I look forward to it ... they’re so appreciative, and they’re so willing to learn. I love it.”