Mesha Kennerley of Carson City doesn't believe in giving up. So when her 19-year-old Chinese student said he didn't want to try for his driver learner's permit again, she had a reply based in experience.
"I told him, 'Don't feel bad because you haven't passed,'" she said. "'I took my GED eight times before I passed. Why are you upset? You only tried six times.'"
And her student did pass.
Not only did he receive his learner's permit, he also received his driver's license. Kennerley is working with him now to improve his English skills so he can find a job to which he can drive that car.
"English has so many exceptions," she said. "In our language, we don't have past tense, present tense or future tense. That's why I had so many problems on my GED."
Kennerley came to America from Taiwan in 1982. Her husband, Hadyn, a merchant mariner, was often overseas. So when she had her oldest daughter, Tammi, and then her son, Royce, she was often alone.
"I found it very difficult, I couldn't really communicate with people," she said. "There weren't a lot of Chinese people in Incline Village," where she then lived.
In 1995, she saw a notice in the Carson City Library about the Carson City Literacy Volunteers. She gave it a shot and was put in touch with tutor Carol Jagoda, who died last year.
With Jagoda's encouragement, Kennerley took the GED a seventh time. And failed. On the eighth try, in July 1996, she nailed it. The essay topic was to talk about the meaning of America.
"Carol taught me how to put the words into an essay," she said. "I had the feeling I can pass. It was a subject I could write about how I feel, about what it means to become a citizen and how happy I was my first day in the country."
This year, Kennerley, touched by Jagoda and others, decided to begin helping as well. It's a need, according to Marilyn Brandvold, coordinator of the program for the past 15 years.
"The general population is not aware that there are a lot of illiterate people out there," she said.
The program, which targets basic literacy and also English as a second language, had problems receiving support when it started in 1986, because people viewed illiteracy as a personal problem.
"Back then, if you couldn't read, it was because you were stupid," said Brandvold. "It wasn't because you hadn't been taught."
She has seen the need for literacy tutoring grow over the years. Studies in the 1990s reveal that the illiteracy rate in Carson City was higher than 7 percent.
But Kennerley, who is using the program's philosophy of "Each one, teach one," is no longer a statistic. She is keeping busy planning assignments for her three new students as well as being in a Chinese sorority she joined with her friends.
"I used to be shy," she said. "I have become more active in the society."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
Carson City Literacy Volunteers
• Needs tutors for its students
• A training session is scheduled from 6- 9 p.m., Sept. 14 and 15; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 17 and 24. All four sessions must be completed for certification in the Laubach Literacy program. There is a $25 registration fee.
• The Laubach method was started by a Methodist missionary named Frank Laubach, who visited the Philippines in early 20th century and discovered the people had no written language.
• All tutoring is done in the center at the State Library and Archives. Students use Laubach books.
• The program is kept going through donations. To become a tutor or to donate, call Marilyn Brandvold at 885-1010.