By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Pioneer Library System (PLS) is boosting its services for English as a Second Language for those interested in pursuing American citizenship.
The program is made possible through a grant from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
As part of the grant, “Citizenship Corners” have been established at five PLS hometown libraries – Moore, Norman Central, Purcell, Shawnee and Southwest Oklahoma City.
Each venue will have information such as reference sheets, study guides, contact numbers for organizations that can answer specific questions on citizenship and information about the PLS’s Literacy Services program for adults.
“They will have all kinds of information about the process and what to do next,” said Jane Douglass, Literacy Services Coordinator for the Pioneer Library System.
The library offers tutoring for both English as a Second Language students as well as native English speakers. Learners can work one-on-one with volunteer tutors to help them earn a GED or to just speak and read the language better.
PLS is in the process of training volunteer tutors specifically to work with those interested in pursuing U.S. citizenship.
Noble, Oklahoma resident, Yolanda Valenzuela, is one of hundreds who have benefitted from the PLS Adult Literacy Services program.
“It changed my life,” says the mother of 2, originally from Mexico, now a U.S. citizen.
Her path to citizenship began after a visit to the Noble Public Library to learn about the possibility of tutoring to help her learn English.
Coming from Chihuahua, Mexico, Yolanda married her husband, Enrique, who received his citizenship from service in the Army National Guard, just two weeks before he was deployed to Iraq.
While living with her family in Oklahoma City, Yolanda found out she was pregnant.
Their new baby son was diagnosed with four defects in his heart and had the first of multiple open-heart surgeries just 10 hours after being born. Today, his heart is repaired.
Also diagnosed on the autism spectrum, her son had specific educational needs. With the language barrier, Yolanda felt she must do more. That’s when she turned to the library for help.
“I was desperate when I came to the library,” she said. “They called me back and said we have a tutor here in Noble, and that got me started working with Cap.”
Cap Kaylor, a longtime PLS program volunteer said, “She worked very hard to learn the language for the sake of her family and her little boys.”
After learning to speak English, Yolanda applied for U.S. citizenship and received her official proclamation in 2013.
“The literacy community has seen a growing number of students who are English language learners,” said Susan McVey, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
“In serving them, it became obvious that these students needed additional resources to help them get accurate information on the path to citizenship,” McVey added. “This project is incredibly important in building a connection between this vital group of immigrants and their public libraries.”
The $15,000 grant is split three ways between PLS services in Cleveland, McClain and Pottawatomie counties. It will be used to purchase citizenship study materials from the publisher New Readers Press.
“They publish specific and excellent citizenship study materials,” said Jane Douglass, Coordinator of the PLS Literacy Services program. “And they have just updated them.”
“If people come in interested in gaining citizenship we can refer them directly to a tutor specializing in that,” Douglass said.
The program helps to show students how to submit their application for citizenship to USCIS.
Douglass added, “What we will do is individualized to each person’s need depending on where they are with their English.”
Today Yolanda is one of the newest volunteer tutors for the PLS program.
For more information visit pioneerlibrarysystem.org or contact Jane Douglass at 405-701-2682.