The Hamilton Tutor of the Year award was established as a way to recognize and share the outstanding efforts of our tutors. Tutors embody the spirit of this award- dedicating personal time to teaching and guiding new language learners, supporting their students’ goals, becoming a confidential, cultural advisor, and finding creative ways to expand VEP so that we are available, accessible and affordable in the future.
In November, VEP chose Dr. Norman Fienman and Mrs. Marla Fienman as the 2020 VEP Tutors of the Year.
As individuals and a couple working with multiple students since 2016, they embody the legacy and vision set forth by our founder, Mrs. June Hamilton, 34 years ago. Thank you for inspiring your students to achieve their goals.
2019: VEP Conversation Group Leaders:
Dr. Susan Jacques Pierson
2018: Dr. Mark DeWitte
2017: Carol Rubinger
2015: Carol Linsenmann
2014: Dr. Patricia Mapps
2013: Christina vandePol
Mark DeWitte’s Shared Remarks – November 11, 2018
“Thank you, Terri and VEP.
First, I must say that I am humbled, and I gratefully accept this honor on behalf of all the VEP tutors, because I strongly believe all VEP tutors are just as deserving of this recognition as I am.
Many (maybe all) of you are better teachers of English than I am. Your dedication and generous giving of your time to your students continues to inspire me.
Let me ask the tutors here today to ask yourselves, why did you become a tutor with VEP? Perhaps, it was because you were raised by parents or a family that taught you the values of kindness, unselfishness, and altruism.
Or perhaps in your education there was a special teacher who helped you and inspired you, or in your overall life experiences you realized you’ve been fortunate, and you have been able to accomplish many of your own personal goals, allowing you now to help others make progress to achieve their goals. Now you want to “give back”.
Perhaps you believe you are a citizen of the world, fundamentally the same as people of all nations, all races, all backgrounds, and you believe in human rights, and equal rights, for all people.
We know and appreciate the freedoms and the ideals of the United States of America; we believe it is right to help immigrants and refugees enjoy what we enjoy in this country, especially if the people who come here have struggled to escape oppression, or war, or crime, or gang violence, or poverty, or lack of opportunity for themselves or for their children. I think VEP tutors feel compelled to promote equal opportunities for all.
For me the reasons to join the VEP are all of the above. And, I think there was one more reason, a sentence I first heard in the context of the first Earth Day in 1970, when I was a university student. That sentence is: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”.
I think VEP, definitely, is part of the solution.
About 3 years (plus a few months) ago I was introduced to 3 very fine people, Mariana, Mircea and Alexandru Ionescu, who came to Pennsylvania from Romania, with almost no knowledge of the English language. By mid-2015 they had been in the USA for almost 2 years, working hard, just the 3 of them, together, in their family business, cleaning offices. Because they worked, and still work, together in the evenings and on weekends when offices and buildings almost always are empty, in their first years here they had very little opportunity to hear or speak English.
They had applied to another ESL tutoring organization but waited many months with no response. Someone advised them to contact VEP. The efficient VEP team acted promptly, and I met Mircea within just a couple weeks after their VEP application was handled.
Mariana, Mircea and Alex were at very different levels of understanding English and they have distinctly different learning styles and abilities. However, because of their work schedule and my schedule, it was pragmatic to tutor all 3 simultaneously. Their enthusiasm and motivation made this possible. We began with a structured approach to vocabulary and grammar, very basic reading and comprehension. We used VEP-provided workbooks. Many days my wife, Karen, would read with and tutor with Alex separately, while I would work with Mariana and Mircea. Karen’s help was – and is- invaluable and greatly appreciated by Alex and by me.
Soon it became evident I would be most helpful to the Ionescu family if I combined our English lessons with practical information, translations and explanations, and/ or creation of their business-related documents such as proposals for new work, contracts, detailed instructions from clients, insurances, licenses and registrations, and also communications related to their personal medical appointments, medical tests, credit cards, bank accounts, on-line applications, even voice messages on their cell phones.
Explaining and handling these “practicalities” of life and work has been integrated fully into our regular English lessons.
I’m sure most VEP tutors encounter similar practical issues – especially managing economic, legal, bureaucratic or regulatory issues and documentation that our students find hard – or sometimes impossible – to understand.
Several times I went with Alex to talk to insurance companies and banks, to a business franchise company, to Chester County SCORE, and to office buildings for Alex to ask if he and his parents could secure the contract to clean their offices, clinics or medical suites.
Fortunately, not long after the first year of our tutoring, VEP arranged for Alex to have his own, dedicated tutor, so Alex could make critical progress at his own pace. That has been a major benefit. I commend and thank both Elizabeth Scianna and now Sandra Schaal for their excellent work teaching Alex.
This past summer Mariana, Mircea and Alex sent in their N400 applications to become US citizens. Quite recently they received the invitations for their Naturalization interviews in Philadelphia, scheduled for early December. Of course, they are studying and practicing in preparation for the interviews. They deserve great credit for always attending their tutoring sessions.
It has been a privilege for Karen and me to tutor and help Mariana, Mircea and Alex. Also, it has been fun; we planted trees for the Brandywine Conservancy, we’ve played tennis, gone bowling, we’ve gone to art shows, to The Brandywine River Museum, town festivals, farmers’ markets and, of course libraries and cafes.
Cultural adaptation has not been neglected, because as VEP knows, understanding culture facilitates understanding of our English language.
My experience is just one example; you all have many more examples. I thank the VEP staff for making it all possible, with their hard work, excellent support, unwavering commitment to students and tutors and their goodwill.
Just before I conclude, let us recognize that today – the 11th day of the 11th month – is the 100 year anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. On Veterans Day we honor and thank the men and women who served our country. Thank you.”