“Our tutors and students have made the best of a very difficult situation...”

Pandemic Pivoting: Dominican Literacy Center adapts

AURORA, Ill., Jan. 2, 2021 — “’A’” is for adaptation.” That’s how Dominican Sister Kathleen Ryan, OP, summed up the Dominican Literacy Center’s response to the pandemic.

Sr. Ryan, founder and director of the nonprofit center on Aurora’s far east side, reflected on the facility’s 2020—and future–in the winter “Word and Hope,” center semiannual newsletter.

She said, “The COVID-19 virus has turned our lives topsy-turvy for the past nine months, but there is one quality that has grown exponentially here at Dominican Literacy Center, and that is our ability to adapt.

 Dominican Literacy Center continues during pandemic
Students line up outside the Dominican Literacy Center in Aurora for temperature checks before tutoring sessions. (DLC photo)

“Our tutors and students have made the best of a very difficult situation, ensuring that our students are still able to learn to read, write and speak English in a variety of ways.”

According to Sr. Ryan, 60-student-tutors pairs continue to meet weekly at the center, following new safety guidelines. Forty-two pairs are meeting weekly, using online platforms like Zoom and phone apps. Another 62 pairs have taken a semester off and will decide whether to return in January, pending local COVID positivity rates and vaccination news.

In-person group activities—announcements, snack breaks, birthday parties, conversation groups—are on hold. Instead, temperature checks, hand washing and masks are implemented. Tutoring rooms are sanitized after every use.

Sr. Ryan said, “The switch to pairs working remotely has been quite remarkable. Our dedicated tutors took on the challenge of teaching themselves and their students how to use phone apps and virtual programs like FaceTime, WhatApp, Zoom and Google Meet. Weekly announcements are e-mailed and materials are distributed with pick-up and drop-off bins on the front porch.”

She added, “We have made a serious effort to stay in touch with those taking a break this semester and have received feedback from them.

“All of us look forward to the day when we can be together again. But we are grateful that we have been able to adapt our learning community to today’s needs. We are so thankful to have such amazing and determined women be part of our Center. We are truly blessed,” Sr. Ryan said.

Founded in 1993 with five students and five tutors, the center has grown to 150 students from 16 countries. Since its inception, the center has enrolled more than 2,000 women in free classes taught by trained female volunteer tutors. In a separate free program, trained volunteers–including Aurora Alderman-at-large Bob O’Connor–prepare men and women to take the U.S. citizenship test.

Operated by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, the center is located at 260 Vermont Ave. (at St. Therese parish) in Aurora. Call (630) 898-4636 or visit dominicanliteracycenter.org for more information.

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Al Benson
Freelance Photo-Journalist

Al Benson is an Aurora-based freelance photo-journalist. He is currently an archives research specialist at Aurora University. His work has appeared in The Voice, The Daily Herald, The Beacon-News, and the Chicago Tribune.

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