Same Math Different Language: Volunteering in a G.E.D. Class

March 15, 2012
Kathleen O'Donovan Uniting America AmeriCorps Fellow

This past weekend I got the opportunity to be on the other side of the table and take part in one of my volunteer opportunities.  The opportunity that I took part in is a very specific position. It is to help an elderly man, Francisco, take notes during his Spanish GED math class. Francisco needs help taking notes because his eyesight is so poor. I was approached to find a volunteer to fill this position because Francisco doesn’t have a problem with comprehension, he simply cannot see the board and it holds up the whole class because the teacher cannot erase the board and move on to the next topic.

I arrived at the College of Lake County’s Lake Shore Campus about 5 minutes before class started so that I could find the classroom. The class consisted of about 27 adult students.  There was a great atmosphere when I entered the room. I was introduced to Francisco, he was very friendly and we chatted away.  I learned that he was from Jalisco, Mexico and that he moved to the United States almost 10 years ago. He wants to get his GED so that he can set a good example for his grandchildren. I could tell that his eyesight was severely impaired, he was wearing very thick glasses and still used a magnifying glass to see anything written on paper. I was a little nervous to take notes because it was going to be all in Spanish, and math is not my strongest suite.  As class stated though all my fears were calmed because the teacher wrote everything on the board. It felt like I was in class learning things that I already knew in a new language. We covered: the Pythagorean theorem, how to find degrees in complimentary angles, and different kinds of triangles. My job was really very simple; I took notes and that way Francisco was able to just focus on what the teacher was saying and not on taking notes.

After class both the teacher and Francisco said that my presence had been a huge help; class had never gone so smoothly.  I was happy to help, the role was really a very simple one for me to do but it made a huge difference to the pace of the class. It was great to help a man who is trying to further his education.

I am still looking for someone to volunteer with Francisco. The volunteer I am looking for knows Spanish and has legible handwriting. This class meets from 1:30-2:30 every Saturday at CLC’s Lake Shore Campus. To help Francisco or to learn about other ways to get involved in Uniting America in Waukegan contact me, Kathleen O'Donovan at!