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Verizon Foundation keeps kids in the network

Date: 5/26/2009

Kermit Dunkelberg, director of the Ludlow Area Adult Learning Center, and Ellen M. Cummings, Verizon s regional director for external affairs, look over the shoulders of student learners Sylwia Tylec and Krzysztof Gibadlo as they work on laptops in an adult education class funded by the Verizon Foundation.
By Marie P. Grady

Special to Reminder Publications

In the TV commercials, the Verizon customer is often stuck in foreign territory " a literal dead zone for communication with the outside world.

Suddenly, just as all hope is lost, he looks behind him and sees a veritable army of support. The Network as they call themselves.

Foreign territory. Communication. The themes seem apropos as I visit with a class of adult education students at the Ludlow Area Adult Learning Center. Some didn t know a word of English when they landed here just a few years ago. But it turns out a different Verizon network " the charitable arm of the telecommunications company " has got them covered.

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, students here are using the ultimate network " the Worldwide Web " to learn how to communicate better in the English language. In the process, they are preparing themselves for jobs, learning and life in a world that might otherwise seem to be foreign territory.

The Ludlow center, a community services program of Holyoke Community College, used the grant to double instructional time with students and to purchase seven laptops and a SMART Board for classes. With the touch of a finger on a large plasma screen, the board can teach a student not only how to learn a new word but how it is pronounced.

Ellen M. Cummings, Verizon s regional director for external affairs, recently visited with students at the Ludlow center and was impressed with what she saw. In instructor Monica Ceccatto s class, students were using the computer to document skills they have that match with available jobs.

Our mission has always been focused on literacy. We hope to provide the tools to help this segment of the population to achieve the skills and access the resources they need to succeed, Cummings said.

In addition to technology grants, Verizon has a Web site called Thinfinity devoted to offering free educational resources for a variety of literacy programs.

Krzysztof Gibadlo, a 27-year-old native of Poland, came here two years ago with no English at all. A computer expert in his homeland, he is now a systems analyst at MassMutual in Springfield. He knew the language of computers but not the lexicon of his new home.

I am working on my English 100 percent, he says.

Maria Correira of Portugal was not exactly comfortable with computers but has taken to the ease and portability of a laptop. After four decades on this Earth, she realizes you can learn something new every day.

Nilceia Matos worked as an assistant bank manager in Brazil and is working at Dunkin Donuts here. Like Shrilaxmi Shetty of India, a computer analyst at home, they hope to use this new technology to find a connection between the language of their new world and the skills of the old one. Likewise with Sylwia Tylec, a 32-year-old native of Poland, who knows you have to know how to work a computer to get a decent job.

The program at the Ludlow center began with a PowerPoint presentation by Erika Grael, a 20-something native of Brazil who effortlessly used the SMART Board to give a presentation on the state of South Dakota and the timeless images of four U.S. presidents etched in stone at Mount Rushmore.

The technology has captivated not only newcomers but Americans who have been here for years, including those who remember a time when you didn t have to be an expert at the language to land a good job.

Kermit Dunkelberg, director of the Ludlow program, recalls finding a 75-year-old Portuguese woman enthralled as her well-worn fingers manipulated the SMART Board plasma screen.

Beginning English students are just captivated.

Marie P. Grady is liaison for the Literacy Works Project of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County Inc. For more information on the Verizon Foundation and its Thinkfinity literacy program, log on to