GCSOM students go virtual for UNC volunteer work
United Neighborhood Centers’ (UNC) Scranton Council of Literacy Advance (SCOLA) provides free adult literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) education to the community.
This vital service relies on a cadre of volunteers, including many Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) students, to operate. When COVID-19 prevented tutors and students from meeting for in-person lessons at UNC’s south Scranton offices, the GCSOM mentors quickly adapted to conducting their teaching via phone or Zoom.
Amy Hoang, a member of the Master of Biomedical Sciences (MBS) Class of 2020, began serving as an ESL tutor when she first came to GCSOM. Her UNC student, who was born in Mexico, didn't have the technology to continue her English lessons via Zoom. That meant Amy had to get creative and teach her by telephone. “There were challenges,” she said. “Since my student is a non-native English speaker, sometimes I have difficulty understanding what she is saying. We had to find workarounds, like text messaging.” Amy said she even added additional time for lessons – beyond the two sessions per week UNC recommends – so that her student didn't fall behind.
At a time when Amy and the other GCSOM mentors were getting used to new ways of learning themselves, adding to their volunteer hours could have been synonymous with adding to their stress. The students insist, however, that serving Scranton’s vulnerable population is energizing and reinforces their commitment to community. “COVID-19 forced a lot of people to stay away from their work and their social life. We didn’t want to leave our neighborhoods without the needed services at UNC as well,” Amy said. “I feel as though that hour out of my day was a time when I could focus on something other than my studies. It actually helped me de-stress. It also reinforces the importance of helping adult English learners who are truly working hard in order to adapt to their new environment. It's the least I could do, as someone who's privileged to have been born in the U.S.”
The following GCSOM students have participated in phone tutoring:
- Seth Ellison
- Rachel Evans
- Amy Hoang
- Ataya Horn
- Emilia Jakubek
- Bridget Keehan
- Emily Kummerer