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50 Plus Club Back in the classroom

Ahe greets each student by name as they walk into the classroom and inquires about their families as they find their seats around the folding tables. They return the courtesy by asking about her husband’s health, and when they seem unsure of the sentence structure, she assures them that they have it right. With a piece of chalk in hand Dorothy (Holl) Hill ’49 carefully writes the date on the board. Amid much talking and laughter, class begins.

But this is no ordinary classroom scene and the students are no ordinary students. Instead, Hill finds herself in front of a classroom full of grown women and men. From dentists and nurses to photographers and clothing designers, they are originally from many different countries including Mexico, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. Whether it’s the desire to be able to write a note to a child’s teacher, help with homework, or the ability to converse with doctors and pharmacists, these men and women are there to learn English and Motivated Moms is there to help them do just that.

Motivated Moms, a program that provides English classes to women and men who speak English as a second language, was started seven years ago by Mary Alice Rissmiller. “She noticed women around her who were handicapped because they couldn’t speak English and found that there was a need for service,” says Hill. Two years ago, Hill became aware of the program when she heard a speaker at an event. She learned that tutors were needed, and decided to look into the program. She visited the classrooms on February 28, 2002, and only five days later began teaching classes. “I was looking for something to do,” she says, “and this just fit. It seemed like a niche that I could fill.”

After all, Hill is no stranger to the classroom. Prior to retirement, she was a teacher for 25 years, with 19 of those years spent at Daniel Boone High School. With Motivated Moms, “I think I’m back in school again,” she says. Hill prepares lesson plans for each class, and divides the two hours of class into three periods. During the first period, the students prepare sentences to write on the board. They may be sentences about what the student and his or her family will do in the coming week, or a particular phrase that a student has been having trouble with. Hill and the class then look over the sentences and correct any mistakes. Occasionally there may be a word or phrase that she is not familiar with, but Hill always has a dictionary by her side. “They’re teaching me as much as I teach them,” she laughs, as she learns about Terra Nova, a week of religious testing that one of her student’s children is involved in.

After all of the phrases are checked, Hill changes the pace by dictating sentences to the students. For encouragement, gold stickers are given to those who do well. After a short coffee break, students come back for what Hill calls “conversation time.” Each week Hill picks a different topic to talk about, and this particular week, she writes “summer recreation” on the board. A quick trip to the Visitors Bureau of Reading has supplied her with maps, booklets and brochures of museums and events in Berks County, which serve as fuel for the conversation. Hill’s mention of The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II weekend inspires one student to share that she has been there with her family. Another student mentions that she saw signs for a Kite Festival, but is unsure how to get there. Hill quickly pulls out a map and the class discusses the best route to take.

“They are so eager to learn. They just gobble it up,” Hill says. In addition to the English classes, Motivated Moms also provides free childcare. Without it, many of the women in Hill’s class would not be able to attend the English classes. “It’s a really great program,” Hill says, and the “Mom’s” agree. As one mom stated in the Motivated Moms newsletter, “[Motivated Moms] helped me feel like I belong here; motivated me to have a better life in the United States.”

“I look forward to coming in here,” Hill says. “I hate it when I have to miss a day.”

– Loren A. Morgan ’05

A Message to the Class of 1954…

“We had a wonderful weekend at our 50th reunion. It was great to see all of you after so many years. If you have email, you saw the photos from the reunion. For those without email who wish to see their photo, please send a stamped, self-addressed, size 10 envelope to: Rae Hoopes, 1183 Lincoln Court, Elberon, NJ 07740-4538.”

– Rae Hoopes ’54

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