Perez Brown turned to East York Learning Experience to help him improve his math skills and achieve his goal of becoming an electrician and running his own business. Photo by Alexandros Varoutas.
By ALEXANDROS VAROUTAS
Since 1987, East York Learning Experience has been helping adults in East Toronto improve their skills through their award-winning One-to-One Literacy Program.
EYLE’s goal is to help adults update their literacy skills and achieve the goals they want to achieve in their lives.
Whether they want to find or keep a job, enter a school or apprenticeship program, or simply strengthen their independence while navigating their daily lives, volunteers will help chart the course towards this goal.
Students are referred to EYLE for many different reasons. If someone wants to enroll in the adult school but does not have the minimum basic skills to qualify, they can be referred for tutoring at EYLE instead.
About half of the students, however, are actually brought in by word of mouth from other students who have seen the results of the program themselves.
EYLE volunteers assess skills for improvement and develop a learning plan for each student that meets their needs and learning style.
Ian Kinross, a volunteer and one of the directors of EYLE, has been tutoring for a few years now and finds the experience a two-way street.
After working with one of his students to develop their reading skills, he realized that he too was learning ways to improve his own reading habits.
“My learner reads slowly, but he reads deeply and he reads to understand. When we take on a reading assignment, it’s a wake-up call for me, ”Kinross said.
Kinross believes people shouldn’t miss out on a job opportunity that they might be perfectly qualified for just because they’re struggling with the application process or with just one specific element of the job.
Perez Brown, an EYLE alumnus, came in with the aim of improving his math skills.
After health problems forced him to give up his job in construction, he considered becoming an electrician. The only challenge was the amount of math the job would involve.
In school, Brown did well in all areas, but always struggled with math. Even the teachers did not understand why he struggled so much more with one subject than all the others.
“I ended up internalizing that, a bit, and thinking ‘well, maybe I couldn’t really learn math for some reason,’” he told Beach Metro News.
But when the time came for a career change later in life, Brown decided to reassess his abilities.
After an initial consultation, Brown was amazed at EYLE’s approach to learning after discussing her learning style for the first time.
“I remember being blown away by this idea – that people learn in different ways. The tests showed that I was a good visual learner, ”he said.
Brown now owns a small business where he uses his skills on a daily basis through his time at EYLE.
Gail McCullough has been part of the EYLE team for 31 years. She is now the director and has seen the positive impact of the program in the community year after year.
“I can’t tell you how many people we have had in our program who have never voted in their lives,” she said.
McCullough believes adult literacy rates impact communities in countless ways, from crime rates to pollution.
For this reason, it was important to continue the program even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blockages and restrictions have prompted a switch to distance learning. This has dramatically affected the learning curve, not only for learners, but also for tutors.
“Not all of our students are computer literate or have access to computers and technology,” said McCullough.
This is another focal point of the program. Besides traditional skills such as reading, writing and math, EYLE also offers digital literacy tutoring for those who need help using technology and browsing the internet.
Some changes had to be made so that everyone could continue working with their tutors.
For some, it was a little easier to go online for virtual learning.
But, at the end of the day, even for those who couldn’t log in, the volunteers would photocopy the resources and drop them off if that was the right thing to do.
Khim Tang is one example of the difference this level of commitment can make.
Born and raised in Cambodia and Thailand, she immigrated to Canada with minimal English skills.
As a single mom, she wanted to go to college and find a career that would support her and her daughter, but applying meant passing an English exam.
She was referred to EYLE by Homeward Bound, an organization that helps single mothers continue their education and find employment.
EYLE helped her build her skills and prepare her for the entrance exam. After being admitted to her program, she stayed on board and continued to receive one-on-one tutoring with homework she was required to complete.
Throughout her school years, Tang said that EYLE played a passive role and gave her the space to do things on her own.
Instead, they just watched and sometimes made suggestions for changes, but never took ownership of the process.
“It’s like knowing that you have a mother or a father to support you,” she said.
Today, Tang is a change analyst at a bank and draws on the skills she has acquired regularly at EYLE.
“Before I started the East York Learning Experience, it was taking me hours and I didn’t even know if it was right,” she said.
For volunteers like McCullough, stories like this make it easy to come back year after year to continue tutoring because “everyone deserves to be literate.”
For more information on East York Learning Experience, please visit https://eastyorklearningexperience.ca/