Dear Consortium teachers and staff,

Our best wishes for a joyful spring and summer! Flowers and plants are blooming, vaccinations are here, and we are slowly returning to familiar pre-pandemic activities like train rides and (gasp) hugs. Our adult education fiscal year is wrapping up, and whether you’re a teacher or program staff member, we can bet you’re contemplating what a pivot to post-pandemic classes will look like. In this newsletter, we wanted to catch up with people who made big adjustments to their work this year,  and to ask them: what have you learned this year and how will your knowledge change the way you see your work in adult education? We want to ask the same question to all of you: what did you learn this year, and how will your knowledge help you build the way forward?

With that in mind, we bring you two interviews, one close to home and one from NYC: Hanul Family Alliance’s English instructor and program manager reflect on the ways their students surprised them during the past year, and Ira Yankwitt, the Director of the Literacy Assistance Center of New York, speaks to how their organization is connecting their work as a literacy organization to the work of organized social justice movements on the ground. There’s also a student success story and useful Consortium recaps and reminders  for you to peruse.

This is an exciting time in our field. We can’t go back to the way things were, so we have an opportunity to think big. How will we build stronger, more innovative, student-centered programs? We’re in this together, and we’re hopeful that the diversity of our programs and experiences can help us create a more just and thoughtful future.

Warmest Regards,
Bria & Nathaniel

Hanul Family Alliance’s English class serves Korean seniors, and this population had particularly difficult obstacles to overcome in regards to coping with the pandemic and the move to virtual learning. We talked to Sun Choi, Hanul’s English language instructor and Charlene Choi, Volunteer and Development Coordinator, about how they’ve managed not only to sustain student engagement, but to strengthen it. Their thinking on what is possible with their students has evolved, and we were curious about what they’ve learned and how it informs their thinking about programming today. 

How did you initially set up your distance learning? 

Sun Choi: So they know me and I know them. That's why in that time, I want to come with them to come forward, you know, how we can overcome and how we can accept  these kinds of situations.  The seniors themselves asked the other seniors, you know, Sun Choi is going to teach. They asked them one by one, and then they raise up, you know, 7, 8, 10, 12. Now, the maximum is 19, but some of the other other seniors are waiting to join. Today's a higher number than when we have a class in the office.

Doing English on the phone sounds really difficult. I mean, for them, and also for you.

Sun Choi: I think the first time when I started the conference phone calls was, what was COVID-19. You know, there's a lot of difficult words in the pandemic and then also, it is good for sharing. When someone's sharing, other seniors come forward, because oh, that's not only me, lonely or scared or something.  You know, the language is culture, culturally understanding each other. 

Do you think since the pandemic, you've been talking more about their lives and what's going on in the world in English class? Are you doing that more than before?

Sun Choi: Yeah, definitely, and then these times they opened their minds, too. In the class before the pandemic they have some cliques. And this time, we are in the same boat. One of the examples is one of the members in the seniors got COVID-19. After she shared, then everyone got shocked because she stayed by herself. So she stayed by herself in her apartment and then she overcame by herself. We all the time called her and then some of the members dropped food and I did too. And then fortunately she got the recovery and now she's doing really good. 

Charlene Choi: It's been at the forefront of our minds that our students are not just students, they're also part of our organization. And as Sun has spoken to many times, we have to be considerate of both their physical and their mental and emotional health during this time. 

Can you think of any other things that you were surprised by during this process?

Charlene Choi: It was concerned about the very real challenges that this could impose upon particularly the seniors that we work with. So I've been very pleasantly surprised, for example, when seeing how our seniors, after so much trial and error, were able to happily join Zoom class. I've been very glad to be proven wrong by our seniors. Through the hard work of them and Sun and the collective effort of family members. So when I joined the class, it was really amazing to see them being so happy to just be able to have another level of connection that they didn't already have through the phone calls, because they're just able to see each other's faces.

Sun Choi: They're really proud of themselves. 

How do you think this changes things going forward?

Sun Choi: I'm always having complaints that the book is not good enough for studying English and applying to their lives. Because I really want to do speaking practice and conversation practice during the class. All the stuff in the book, it's really hard to apply to living life. That is why I teach them not only language, it is a culture.

They're really precious people in there. That's why I'm saying that I'm really lucky because I met you seniors and then they said, No, we are lucky. Yeah, everyone is lucky to have each other. Yeah. Mutually beneficial relationship.

Charlene  Choi: I think that our organization is very culturally specific and answering the call with our particular demographic of our Korean American seniors that we serve. So I think it's just overall a message of needing to meet them halfway, and then they meet us halfway. 


Ira Yankwitt is the Executive Director of the Literacy Assistance Center in New York City. We became aware of the Literacy Assistance Center after reading an open letter he wrote titled, “Literacy and Justice: A Message to Our Field.” We were curious about the thinking that led the Literacy Assistance Center to publicly make explicit connections between literacy work and social justice movements. 

We thought we could begin by having you briefly explain a little about your work?

Sure. The Literacy Assistance Center is a 38 year old organization that's dedicated to strengthening and expanding the adult education system, and to advancing adult literacy as a core value in society and a foundation for equal opportunity and social justice.

We went through a strategic visioning process a number of years ago, where we concluded that the part of our mission that really has been more aspirational than real is the part that's about advancing adult literacy as a core value and as a foundation for equal opportunity and social justice.  We also felt that, largely because so much of our publicly funded programming is guided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, that we have really, as a field, embraced the goals and the language of workforce development; and we have, whether deliberately or unintentionally, distanced ourselves from broader movements for racial, social and economic justice.

So, as part of our strategic visioning work, we concluded that, if we really were going to embrace our mission, we needed to work to reconnect ourselves and the field to the racial, social, and economic justice movements that have been ongoing and have emerged in these last number of years. The core elements of that were about working with programs to build in models that would teach teachers and support teachers in building their curriculum and instruction around social, political, and economic issues that their students are confronting, encouraging students to engage in deep critical analysis of those issues, and connecting students and classes to the movements, organizing and activism that's happening in their communities. And then, finally, to really engage in much more aggressive advocacy around funding for adult literacy education. To actually have greater investment in resources for the students we're serving, as well as to fund explicitly programs that aren't just focused on workforce development, that aren't just focused on narrow educational outcomes. And the popular education training [a new three part  training offered by the Literacy Assistance Center] was speaking to one piece of that, that first piece about how teachers can bring these issues into the classroom. 

What this last year has done, has just amplified, and really, I think, brought to mainstream media and mainstream consciousness, is the profundity of the inequities and injustices that BIPOC communities face throughout the United States. And a recognition that we have to address racial and economic justice much more deliberately, much more head on. I think that we are really trying to rise to the moment as an organization, to not let this moment pass us by, because we think, ultimately, the best way we can serve those students and communities is by engaging ourselves, our field, in broader racial, social, and economic justice movements and activism.

Do you see an increased interest in teachers this year in that vision?

What I can say is, based on our experience with the popular education training, I was really struck by the level of eagerness and enthusiasm of those participants. Now, there are hundreds of teachers of adult education in New York City, and we were working with 19 of them. So I was struck by the eagerness and enthusiasm - that speaks to your question - and I was really pleased with the results. What I will say is that not all teachers are activists, and not all teachers are aware of the organizations and movements that are out there. And only a handful of teachers are working for organizations that, as organizations, are engaged in movement building and organizing.

What do you see as the space for us to make this activism and movement building more accessible to those students who might be turned off by the ways that it's framed? Or for whom it might otherwise be inaccessible?

I think it really does make a difference, if the organizational context that the classes are happening in is engaged in any of these movements.  Because then it's an honest conversation, right from the start, about where they're attending their classes. 

Absent that, I do really believe in the process that we were introducing to the teachers. The whole idea that you are really listening to and honoring the issues that emerge from the students [and] the community itself. I think it really becomes a skill at how to lead the conversation. 

I'm wondering if you had teachers in your workshop that teach lower levels, and how you talked about teaching this kind of philosophy with limited English?

I think, to the extent that you're able to integrate native language as a vehicle, you can. And I think there's doing this at a linguistically more modest level, all the while knowing that students' analysis is going way beyond what their English language proficiency is enabling them to express.  

One thing that we did hear even from these very eager, enthusiastic teachers: many of our students are coming to get a break from the issues that they're confronting in their lives and in their communities. And we don't dispute that.  What I do think, though, is that from those of us who've done this, we also see that as hard as it can be sometimes, and as much of an understandable reluctance as there's going to be sometimes to talk about these issues in the classroom, once you get going, the sense of solidarity and mutual support and recognition that this isn't just on you or just on your family, can be really profound.  So I understand the reservation of the teachers trying to respect the feelings of students, but I also think that if you handle this in a respectful, sensitive way, the positive emotional power is really profound.

And I also think all education is political.  Nothing is neutral.  And the idea that we would be in this moment, and just kind of using those old workbooks, as if it was still five years ago or 10 years ago?  It just feels very irresponsible to me.  If our broader goal is empowerment of our students and their communities, to ignore all the issues that we're surrounded by just feels problematic.


Mmapula came to the United States from Botswana in 2016 and moved to Chicago in 2019. That year she started studying for the GED at different community programs, but she felt stuck and didn’t think she was learning what she needed to know to pass the tests. Eventually, she saw a flyer for CMAA’s Health Care Bridge class and decided to enroll. She completed that course and joined CMAA’s ABE class in 2020. Later in 2020 she also enrolled in GED prep classes at Truman College.

Mmapula said that she learned things in her CMAA classes that she didn’t learn in any of her other classes, such as information about American and Chicago history and culture. She found CMAA’s class to be a great complement to classes at Truman, and this spring she passed all the subject area tests and earned her GED. She remembers finding questions on the social studies GED test that had to do specifically with information that she learned in CMAA’s ABE class about American indigenous people.

She now works with children at Weiss Memorial Hospital and is thinking about getting her associates degree in early childhood education. She’s currently working on her basic nurse assistant training certification at Truman College. 

If the past year has taught us anything, change is the only thing that stays the same.  Part of this change includes welcoming new team members, and part of it includes saying goodbye to dear colleagues we have worked alongside for years.  We would like to recognize the contributions of several colleagues who moved to new opportunities this spring: Grace Yao, Transition Specialist at CMAA; Jennifer Brown, Workforce Empowerment & Community Education Director at HANA Center; and Susan Chaudhri, Lead ESL Instructor at Indo-American Center.

Grace Yao began working at CMAA in 2017 and has supported the Consortium as Transition Specialist since 2019.  This month, Grace joined a close-knit team at Per Scholas to build a brand new IT training program in Chicago.  Jennifer Brown has worked with the Consortium in multiple capacities at HANA Center since 2016, contributing to our programming in ESL and workforce roles before taking leadership as a director.  In May, Jennifer began working with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an advocacy organization that partners with many of our agencies to better the condition of the communities we serve.  We wish Grace and Jennifer good luck and success in their exciting new endeavors!

Everyone in our Consortium knows that teachers and their students are at the heart of our programming.  This year we congratulate a longtime instructor for her immeasurable impact on the hundreds of students taught over the years.  Susan Chaudhri served thirteen years as the Lead ESL Instructor at Indo-American Center, proving invaluable in her contributions to ESL curricula and building a robust student community at IAC. Thank you so much, Susan, for the ways you have built up our programs and made Chicago a welcoming home for English learners of all backgrounds and nationalities!

Thanks to all who attended sessions during the  Spring Professional Development Institute (PDI)! If you missed any sessions, you can still access handouts from the presenters at the following  links. And if you’d like to watch recordings of PDI sessions for additional PD credit hours, please email Nathaniel ( to get set up. Remember, you will need to have 12 documented credit hours of PD by June 30th, 2020.

Effectively Adapting Pandemic to Post-Pandemic Strategies, led by Keighty Ward, Community Literacy Program Director at Literacy Works

CASAS Refresher, led by Bria Dolnick, ESL Lead Instructor at CMAA

Reimagining Career Readiness, led by Tanvi Shah, Director of the Frontline Focus Training Institute at Chicago Jobs Council

Referral is a Two-Way Street: ESL Students & Job Seekers with Upwardly Global, led by Cassidy Rappaport, Community Engagement and Outreach Associate at Upwardly Global 
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