My name is Elizabeth Studstill and I am a 900-hr AmeriCorps State member serving in Tucson, Arizona. This is my second year with AmeriCorps and my second year volunteering for a nonprofit called Literacy Connects.


Literacy Connects has many programs focused on literacy education in underserved communities for both children and adults, but I work for the English Language Acquisition for Adults (ELAA) program. We provide 45 free English classes around Tucson ranging from the beginning level to advanced conversation classes. In just the current class session, which began mid-January, we are serving 748 students.


These classes, more than anything else, offer the students opportunity. There are so many barriers in place to the immigrant and refugee populations in Tucson, but one of their biggest hurdles is language. Even before you get to challenges like entering the job market or applying for higher education, the most routine of everyday tasks can seem impossible. How do you go to the grocery store, stop by the bank, or speak to your landlord without English? How do you get your driver’s license or speak with your child’s teacher about their behavior in class? If we want to lift these populations out of poverty and put them on an even playing field, we need to give them English.


I personally teach a beginning class at the Wakefield Family Resource Center with 22 students. We’re a big group and sometimes class can get very loud, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’m so lucky to have gotten this placement from AmeriCorps because through it I’ve discovered my passion. When I see that light in a student’s eyes as the lesson suddenly clicks for them and they understand, it doesn’t feel like serving. It feels like such a gift to be a part of that process.


A couple of weeks ago in class, one of my Spanish-speaking students waved me over while working on a writing assignment. She pointed to the sentence she was working on and asked me, “Teacher, this has two E’s? Or one?” I answered her question and started to walk away when she yelled again, “Teacher!” I turned around to see her looking amazed with herself, eyebrows raised and mouth hanging open, as she continued, “I ask you in English!”


It seems small maybe, but even just the simple ability to ask for help in English was huge for her. She was shocked and proud. I want all of my students to be able to have a moment like that, where they realize suddenly that they can do more than they thought they could.