Literacy Class Changes Lives


The Mineola Memorial Library provides a quiet space for Kathie Novak, a volunteer with Literacy Nassau, to hold small group lessons for adults who are looking to improve their English skills.

“My goal for my ESL [English as a Second Language] students is to improve their quality of life, by helping them to speak, read and write English,” Novak said. “Becoming literate opens doors and gives them confidence to seek better jobs, as well as giving them the skills to help their children with their homework.”

Nassau Literacy volunteer teacher Kathy Novak (second from right) with her students Gladys, Giada and Alcina.
Nassau Literacy volunteer teacher Kathy Novak (second from right) with her students Gladys, Giada and Alcina.

Novak and her three students, Gladys, Alcina and Giada, meet twice a week for two-hour sessions where they work on day-to-day speaking, reading, and writing skills. They learn idioms and expressions, practice skills like making doctor’s appointments and understanding medication instructions, and discuss American government and civics. Novak encourages her students to read newspapers and magazines to practice what they’ve learned, and also assigns them homework, the latest being a biographical essay.

Alcina moved from her home in Portugal to the United States when she was 26 years old, and the only words she knew in English were “yes” “no” and “one.” In her biographical essay, she describes the decision she and her husband made to move to America.

“We left my lovely country, my family, my friends and the job I love to do, [to] give a better life for our daughters,” she said.

Alcina and her family live in Mineola, and she wants to use the skills she has learned to return to work in accounting, for which she completed her degree in Portugal.

“The class has helped so much,” Alcina said. “I’m so grateful to the library for helping people like us. Ms. Novak is a nice teacher to volunteer.”

Gladys is from Honduras and lives in Garden City Park with her family. She spoke no English when she arrived in America.

“It was difficult for me, then I learned a little bit,” Gladys said. “It is hard with kids, but I am so thankful that I’m learning a lot. I was confused with past, present and future [tenses], but I feel good speaking now.”

In her biographical essay homework, Gladys describes leaving her home and moving to America. She and her husband shared apartments with friends to save money, and eventually bought their own house. Both she and her husband have started their own businesses, his in landscaping and hers in coffee. Gladys said her son was surprised, reading her essay and told her, “You do so much for me. You’re the best mom.”

Giada is from Italy, living and working as an au pair in Garden City. She knew “just a little bit of English” before coming to the United States and says that Literacy Nassau has “helped so much.” She misses her family back in Italy, especially her mom, who she says is “always encouraging me to follow my dreams.” Despite missing her family, she loves to travel, and will likely stay in America for another year. Giada has loved her experience here so far, saying, “The thing that I love more of United States is the people’s freedom, because I think that a person must be free to live her life in the exact way she wants. Here, it’s possible.”

It was a pleasure to see Novak and her students interact, and it is a testament to their hard work that four women, all speaking different native languages, can talk, read, and laugh together at the library.

To find out more about Literacy Nassau, visit To find out more about the Mineola Memorial Library, visit

—By Megan Smead, a trainee at the Mineola Memorial Library

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