In October 2019, Alma Velasco—an adult learner at the Echo Park Branch Library—got serious about becoming a US citizen. Alma sent in her application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and she and her tutor, Claire Chandler, began working towards her goal. Then, COVID-19 hit.
Despite the challenges to Alma and Claire’s progress, they continued working together. They began meeting by telephone and collaborating via email. Claire said, "I would copy and email to Alma a section from Quick Civics Lessons for the Naturalization Test, and I would recommend an episode of the PBS series Freedom: A History of US available on Kanopy. Then we discussed the video and went through the new and old questions from the citizenship test. She did exceptionally well with the citizenship material."
Throughout the summer and fall, Alma continued to work towards her goal, and she became increasingly engaged in issues affecting her adopted country. She talked about US history with her son and the importance of being counted in the census with her family. Alma was especially moved by one episode of Freedom: A History of US called "Liberty for All"? She told Claire, "There was no country in which American Indians could seek asylum." They continued working hard as her November interview date approached.
"I was scared to take the citizenship exam because I thought I was not going to pass," remembered Alma. "I have a good relationship with my tutor Claire, so I shared my fear with her. Claire not only prepared me for the exam but also helped me feel confident that I was going to pass. Claire created flashcards, and slowly we began practicing 5 sets of questions and then 10. Claire went above and beyond so that I could feel prepared."
Finally, after months of preparation, Alma became a US citizen on December 2, 2020! "I was really happy when I passed the citizenship test," said Alma. "I owe it all to my tutor for her patience and dedication." When Claire found out that Alma had passed, she was ecstatic! "Alma passed her US citizenship test with flying colors!" beams Claire. "I was trying to get Alma to be more involved in her community and our city. Now that she's a citizen, she is more interested in our local and national government."
While working virtually on the naturalization test wasn’t ideal, Claire and Alma showed that anything is possible through flexibility, perseverance, and teamwork. Claire said, "Every time we met, we triumphed over challenges. Background noises, unexpected visitors, and problems with cell phones" were just some of the difficulties of working remotely. But at the same time, Claire said working by phone improved Alma’s listening in English. "When you can't see a person, you cannot deduce meaning from body language or facial expression; you have to focus on listening." Claire felt that Alma's improved English listening skills helped her during the interview. She said, "My understanding is the interview is purely spoken, so Alma's increased listening skills were super important." While they both miss the personal connection of working in-person—"No more hugs! No more comments on new hairstyles!"—they have proven that virtual adult literacy tutoring can succeed for learners.
Alma said, "I am proud to say that during the pandemic, I did not stop learning. When the entire world stopped, I was glad I was able to meet with my tutor and keep my mind busy. I am forever grateful for all her help during this process. My tutor Claire is like an angel. I am so grateful for her!"