Miriam Rowe proudly stood before a small gathering in the Bastrop Public Library on Wednesday afternoon to receive her graduation certificate. Rowe had just completed several months of study in the Citizen Test Preparation Class.
All that lies between her and U.S. citizenship is a two-part naturalization test — the first part an English assessment that tests an applicant’s command of the language, the second part a civics test that gauges the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. government and history.
The test can be daunting to anyone seeking to become a U.S. citizen, but after the test preparation course provided by Bastrop’s Literacy Volunteer Board, Rowe — who lives in Cedar Creek after immigrating from Honduras 10 years ago — felt no intimidation.
“I think I’m ready,” she said.
Rowe was one of three students in the Literacy Volunteer Board’s new Citizenship Test Preparation Class, which the group rebooted this year after a nearly 10-year hiatus. It’s a small group, said the board's interim president Lilly Vara, but it’s a good starting point.
“We’re still very small, but we’re trying to get bigger,” Vara said. “So this is just a beginning.”
The class is offered to permanent U.S. residents for free and is taught in English by volunteers. It's held at the public library or at LVB’s office at the corner of Hasler Blvd. and Old Austin Highway near the Bastrop H-E-B.
Vara said she expects next year’s class size to grow, especially knowing that LVB’s other literacy offerings continue to see growing demand.
“It’s all by word of mouth,” Vara said. “So one person gets help and then they tell a friend.”
For years, LVB has offered English as a second language courses, one-on-one English tutoring and tutoring for the General Educational Development Test. The group’s volunteers also offer assistance to students enrolled in ESL classes facilitated by Community Action of Central Texas, a nonprofit that provides health, education and human services in 10 counties across the region.
Jan Horn, a volunteer tutor and LVB board member, began tutoring students with low English proficiency nearly five years ago in Elgin. The majority of the students she’s helped are Hispanic or Latino, some are mothers, some are students, some are working, and all are trying to get ahead.
“Reading and writing — all those skills were strong for me in school,” said Horn, who is retired after working 29 years as a tailor in the costume shop of the performing arts center at the University of Texas. “So I just felt like I could help somebody, whether I had teaching background or not.”
Many of the ESL classes she teaches are held at the Austin Community College campus in Elgin, and this fall she has seen the class size double to over 20.
The LVB is funded primarily through grants and maintained a $20,000 budget last year through two $10,000 grants from the city of Bastrop and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Next year, as the board ratchets up its Citizenship Test Preparation Class, it plans search for more grant opportunities and to hire a part-time program director. The LVB is currently run by seven board members and around 12 volunteer tutors.
The board plans to begin class signups for the next citizenship class in January 2020.