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Student Success Spotlights - 2018

Use the links below to see specific people, or browse at your leisure!

Student Hasan, left, speaks during a class exercise while her tutor Ann looks on


Hanan is no stranger to difficulty – or to resilience.

Forced to leave her homeland of Iraq because of, as she calmly explains, “the war and bombs”, she’s learned to be strong through two moves, the first to Turkey, and most recently to Houston. She’s now settled here with her husband of 20 years and her three children, and she says she loves her new city.

But the need for resilience has continued here too. Hanan’s youngest son is sick with a chronic kidney condition and is regularly hospitalized. Hanan’s first language is Arabic, and when she moved to Turkey she taught herself Turkish by talking with a friend on the phone – but now her need for English is urgent.

She needs to talk to her son’s doctors and caregivers, help him navigate school when he’s frequently absent, and she wants to join her husband in the U.S. workforce so that she can help support her family, both here in Texas and those she left behind in Iraq.

And her English, when she first arrived, was extremely basic.

“Before, just hello, good morning, how are you, was no good.”

When she first came to the United States, Hanan’s English language skills were rudimentary, to say the least. She needed a friend with her at all times to translate and was constantly anxious, not knowing how to help her son get the care he needed or understand the details about how to care for him at home. So she joined a Literacy Advance English class.

At first, Hanan didn’t make a lot of progress in class. She was too distracted and too stressed; her son was sick, she was learning to navigate a new and foreign place, and couldn’t concentrate well. But she stuck with it – and found her progress getting faster. She is grateful to her tutor, Ann, for her patience and care, and speaks animatedly of others noticing her improved conversation skills.

“Doctor say, ‘Hanan, good English’. And [my son’s] teacher say, ‘Hanan, English better’.”

Now, Hanan can talk with her son’s medical carers on the phone, including while he’s in the hospital, as he needs to be for 5 days out of every month. She can text in English, and talk to her son’s teacher and help him stay up to date with his education.

The doctors have noticed her improved English and with it has come increased confidence – the circle of learning in action!

For the future – Hanan isn’t sure. She very much wants to work, but not while her son is so sick. So she’s sticking with English class for now, so that she’ll be ready for a job when the time is right. When asked what job she wants, Hanan says:

“Anything. Any job. I just want make money for my family. I will do anything.”


We can do so much more because of you. Every gift matters, especially yours, as we work every day to ensure a brighter future for everyone in our community. 

Please give today and help one more family!

Thank you. Together, we’re able to do so much more.



It's a common myth: That refugees have little to offer and need a lot of support. Well, there's a grain of truth in it - any one of us would need some support to start over in a new country, especially if we didn't know the language.

But just as would be true for you if you were forced to flee to another country, refugees often have a wealth of experience and skills, sometimes highly technical, and always have much to offer their new homelands. And study after study confirms that the economic benefits of settling refugees in a community outweigh the costs of doing so.

All of this is true for Vanessa. A highly experienced professional, with specialized work experience in pediatric oncology, Vanessa fled Venezuela with her husband and new baby when violence and scarcity threatened them all. Arriving with asylum status in Houston, this tiny family wanted nothing more than to get established and turn this strange new place into home.

Her husband was able to find a job fairly quickly, but Vanessa's English was at the Low Beginner level. There was no way she could work in even an entry-level job, let alone use her medical skills. And without a second income (and far from family), childcare for her 3-month-old was impossible. She was caught in a vicious circle.

Vanessa registered for classes at Literacy Advance but knew she couldn't come regularly. She made an appointment with Diana, the Literacy Advance Transition coach, to talk through her options. Vanessa had two clear goals:

1. To get her driver's license;
2. To improve her English enough to get a job.

Vanessa uses Burlington English at home, using a specialized headset, while her baby naps

Among other referrals to community services and partner agencies, Diana recommended that Vanessa join a Literacy Advance pilot of Burlington English, online software for learning English. The pilot was made possible by funding from United Way THRIVE, and was designed for exactly this scenario - for people who wanted to practice English but couldn't commit to the regular schedule of an in-person class.

Well, this turned out to be exactly what she needed. 

"Burlington English is such a good opportunity for me!  I can study English at home and I am learning a lot. For the first time, I went to the bank and spoke to the teller in English. My husband was not there to help me, but I was able to do everything in English. I know that my English is not perfect but the lady at the bank said she could understand me." 

With some successes under her belt, Vanessa's confidence grew - and she was more willing to try new scenarios and situations where she would have to speak English.

"It was so hard when I didn’t understand English and couldn’t speak to people. Now I can go to the store and ask for sizes and things I need to buy."

Her new-found confidence and English skills came just at the right time:

"My baby was sick, but I was able to talk to the doctor in English. I told the nurse my baby was sick and he was not eating. I did all that in English and they understood me!"

In just a few short months, Vanessa has accomplished the first of her two goals - and not only did she pass her driver's license test, she did so in English.

"I learned to drive here in Houston, and I passed my driving test! I have my driver's license now, and I feel so proud of myself. When I took my driving test, I was afraid I would not understand the woman from the DPS. I could not look at her while I was driving for the test. It was a lot of pressure but I did it. I passed my driving test in English!"

Vanessa has her second goal firmly in her sights now. She's using the feature within Burlington English that helps users with industry-specific language, and she's studying all the English terms for the medical procedures she's already familiar with. We know it won't be long until she achieves her second goal, too.


When you give to Literacy Advance, your support goes a long way. Not only do you provide classes and opportunities for students like Vanessa, you're underpinning the success of whole families. Vanessa will not only soon join the Houston workforce - and help kids with cancer to get better! - your investment in her helps her be a better, more confident mom.

Will you give today and support a family like Vanessa's? Thank you for being the hero they need!

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