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English learning classes


Updated: May 7

by Sandy Chase

A Project Light volunteer, Marva Duley repeatedly shines the spotlight on other volunteers. Her testimonials highlight how colleagues help boost the nonprofit’s mission of supporting the advancement of adult learners through English proficiency, literacy, citizenship, and employment skills.

Avoiding the limelight exemplifies Marva’s modesty. But Executive Director Elena Farkas,

fellow teachers and students have turned the light on Marva, capturing her essence:

“A dedicated English language teacher at our school, Marva is well-suited to our philosophy and environment. Organized and sociable, she brings a delightful presence to our community.”

Elena praises Marva’s insights about her students:

“Marva, who’s bilingual, understands our students’ determination to achieve English proficiency, essential for work. In her teaching, she uses her knowledge of Spanish, recognizing the challenges immigrants face in learning a new language or being on the job without adequate English skills.”

Many attest that Marva is a role model who uses humor and persuasion to encourage her adult learners to overcome difficulties and excel in class and succeed in this country.

Level 1 and 2 teacher Matt Suddes had been impressed by Marva’s great personality and sense of humor when she toured the school. “What’s more important, students were excited when she answered my questions in both English and Spanish.”

Partnering with Marva at times, Matt says, “She inspires her students with her enthusiasm and caring.”

Echoing other clients, two students are grateful for Marva’s teaching. Nestor Pena says, “English should be written how it sounds.” Agreeing with him, Marva points out that that’s true of other languages as well, including Spanish.

Wisiline Cherry says, “I need English to speak with my child because he was born in the USA. And Marva helps us.”

Elena also alludes to Marva’s creativity and generosity. “After I commented about her well-crafted hairbands and earrings, Marva humbly revealed that those and other items make up her jewelry line. She kindly donated several sets of jewelry for our annual winter fundraiser, Bubbles, Beats, and Bites"

Elena expresses Project Light’s gratitude: “Marva's understanding of two languages and her business experience make her an asset to teachers, students, and staff, particularly our newcomers.”

  • How did you learn about Project Light?

I discovered Project Light by researching schools that offer ESL (English as a Second Language)classes. My employer asked me to Google such schools, and after speaking with Project Light’s Executive Director Elena Farkas, she invited me to visit two classes: one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday.

I was impressed with how the school helps support adult learners through literacy, Project Light also prepares attendees for citizenship and employment skills. I also chose PL because of its proximity to the employee’s home.

  •  What about Project Light inspired you to volunteer?

I have a desire to make a positive effect on people by helping them get basic English language skills so they can communicate with others. I believe that volunteering is a meaningful way to give back and contribute to the well-being of others. It brings me joy to support causes that I feel will influence others’ lives.

  • What keeps you inspired to continue at Project, given your career? Have you

considered teaching other levels at PL?

As a Panamanian immigrant, I understand the importance of assisting other immigrants in

learning the language used for business in the USA and helping them teach their children. After observing the PL structure, I want to follow the lesson plans, while continuing to help Elena fulfill our mission.


  • Describe the Beginner English class(es) you teach. Have you taught elsewhere?

The beginner class I teach is Venture 101, which focuses on introducing basic vocabulary,

grammar concepts, and language skills to students who may understand little or no English. The class covers the alphabet, greetings, numbers, and simple sentence structures. Activities may include writing, speaking, and showing ways to gain confidence in using the English language.

  • What materials are most helpful for you/your students?

Materials that are helpful are the textbooks, practice problems, and students’ phones.

Additionally using flash cards and the Kidz A-Z app are also great for learning.

  • How are phones helpful in teaching your adults? Tell me more about the Kidz A-Z app.

Many adult learners of English rely on translation in their native language to understand difficult words and concepts. Personally, I use several apps such as Elevate ( ,

Scholar (, and WordWeb ( as learning tools.

For students, Kids A-Z can be helpful, especially for adults receiving instruction only two days a week. Such students need more immersion in the language, and this app can assist them in achieving that.

  • How has your career helped you at Project Light? What skills do you apply at Project Light?

I used to work for a multinational corporation, monitoring American companies operating in Mexico and other Latin American countries. I apply the same skills for successful management, including organization, problem-solving, and people skills, with both students and fellow teachers.

After retiring for the first time, I returned to Mexico and decided to teach Business English at Interlingua because teaching is something expats (individuals living and/or working in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work-related reasons) are permitted to do in Mexico. Many Mexican nationals work for American and Canadian companies and need to travel to the USA. Therefore, they require proficiency in both English and French.

  • What have your students taught you?

My students give me feedback about certain aspects of my teaching method that they may not fully understand. This constructive criticism helps me improve their language learning experience. Additionally, as an expat from Panama, I have found that my students provide me with valuable cultural insights. Learning about their culture and traditions has been a wonderful experience for both me and my students.

  • What are your challenges? Rewards?

Some students don't have language-learning support at home, making it difficult for both the student and me to prevent them from giving up. However, it is rewarding when students are able to create simple sentences on their own.

  • What suggestions do you have so students don’t give up because they’re disillusioned?

I always advise my students to make friends with their classmates so they have someone to study with. But if they can't do that, I suggest they watch English movies and listen to musical lyrics as it helps improve their language skills.

Whenever I come across my current or past students, I make sure to acknowledge their hard work and dedication by rewarding and praising them. Rewards at the beginning of the term might consist of magnets that have simple, encouraging phrases like I Can Do It! and Dream Big. In the middle of the term, I give books to each adult learner. At the end of the class, I say goodbye with high fives or give them the dap (friendly gesture of greeting), reminding my “graduates” to continue doing their homework.

  • What are your pastimes?

I have been spending my free time this year working with the Manatee County voting system to fulfill my civic duty. When not doing that, I enjoy reading and listening to podcasts while driving. Additionally, I have a small upcycled jewelry line that I promote on Instagram. I enjoy using social media as a means to connect with others.


  • What would you like to tell others who are considering volunteering?

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to be effective in the world and be a part of positive change. Your efforts, no matter how small they may seem, can have a significant effect on the lives of others and contribute to building a better society.

by Sandy Chase

Beverly Sass uses positive reinforcement and other educational skills developed over close to her 30 years as an experienced teacher of students with disabilities. She continues to adapt Project Light’s Level 1 curriculum to ensure that her adults master objectives and achieve success.

Executive Director Elena Farkas speaks for many: “When you enter Beverly's class, you see the sunshine because she welcomes all with a warm, welcoming, and encouraging smile. She’s enthusiastic about helping her students, who learn in a positive, comforting atmosphere.”

Teaching adults for whom English isn’t their first language is an example of how Beverly is

rewarded. But she is positively reinforced when a student like Dennis Fernandez Ruiz—and others—want to learn. The following is based on a translation, but the ideas are his:

“We feel like part of the family in Miss Beverly's class. She knows our birthdays, gives us advice, and cares about us. She knows when we’re in class or absent. Many of us work and don't have time to study. Miss Beverly knows it and patiently explains things we might forget from the previous lesson.” 

According to Dennis, “She treats us like adults but uses techniques to work with challenging students, and it helps us learn and retain information. She helps when the material is complex and she uses techniques to explain new concepts and recycle old material. Miss Beverly motivates and encourages us to learn by using positive words and giving us small presents.” 

These presents—helping students achieve their goals by reinforcing learning —are found in Beverly’s basket. For example, they can choose school supplies, hand gel, candy, headphones, stationery, earrings, small art books, and other materials she buys. Knowing that she is achieving her objectives positively reinforces Beverly.

She also helps her students’ sons and daughters, Dennis’ five-year-old son, being a prime

example: “My son comes with me to English class, and Miss Beverly takes time to teach him how to write or do activities. Her persistence is obvious in his improved writing. Now, he can write his name and other simple words. Her involvement in my son's life has helped him to catch up in his kindergarten class.” 

Speaking for others in his class, Dennis says, “We are very grateful to Miss Beverly for her

patience, care, understanding, and desire to help us live in the new country.”

Beverly is perfectly matched with PL because her positive reinforcement helps to illuminate the way for her students’ learning and living in their new country. She and her students have created a friendly, engaging, and motivating environment.

PL is rewarded, too, because she helps boost the nonprofit’s mission to teach adults English skills that are necessary to function at home, on the job, and in the community.

How did you learn about Project Light?

I’ve visited Bradenton many times over the years and attended St. Joseph Catholic Church during my stay. I’m now a resident, having arrived from Cincinnati in July 2022. I was feeling kind of lost after retiring. But I saw an ad in the church’s weekly bulletin for Project Light and thought volunteering would help me transition from my 28 years of teaching. 

What about Project Light inspired/inspires you to volunteer?

I was an intervention specialist having taught K-12. I worked with students with special needs and wanted to help the PL adults who speak/understand little English. One of the best decisions I have made is volunteering at PL, which I began six weeks after I had arrived. Our community appreciates that you teach the first level of English to adults.

Describe the class.

Level l introduces basic information, such as name, address, phone number, and birthday, which I ask the students. It’s important that they know one another, so for at least a month at the beginning of each class, we learn how to greet, tell a little about ourselves, and answer one another. Students follow my directions and modeling. Next, I find out what they know: alphabet, numbers, months, days of the week, and writing the date. What materials do you use once you’ve achieved your initial objectives?

I follow with Ventures 1 and assign homework from the accompanying workbook to reinforce the lesson taught. (Ventures by Cambridge University Press is the series PL uses for all levels.)

Worksheets are also available for each lesson. I usually look at the start of each unit to see whether there are any worksheets that I think will help students.

There are vocabulary cards, with a picture on one side and the word on the other. I use these cards to introduce words and then have students write a sentence on the board so they can practice their writing. At the end of each unit, I test my students. From the scores, I can see where and who needs help with what.

What strategies/skills from your extensive career do you apply in the Beginner Level class?

Patience is upmost! I also use phonics in class. To reinforce learning, I also use a

a reward program, also known as positive reinforcement.

At the start of the year, everyone gets to choose a gift from my basket. Once students can show their understanding of initial concepts like students’ names and homelands, I reward them. If someone struggles, I just come back to them. I also bring the basket in once we review days, months, numbers, etc.).

Any other examples of positive reinforcement? Other strategies/skills from your extensive career do you use?

Two students still don’t know many English words, so I read the tests to them so they feel some success. I also use concrete examples whenever I can. Students’ actions, making learning more concrete, sometimes help reinforce language. For example, when I was teaching prepositions, I brought in a bag and had each student put something “in” the bag, “on” the bag, and “under” the bag. I do a lot of repetition. Whatever can help with learning, I incorporate into the lesson plan.

What have you learned from your students?

They all love being in the United States. Many students have family back in their home

countries, and I can see how they miss them so much. They want to do better. Learning English is important to my students. I also have learned a little about their culture, such as holidays, as the adults learn about American culture and people.

What are your challenges?

Challenges have been many. Because I don’t speak Spanish or Creole, for example, it’s difficult at times to understand what my students are saying and what they need. The adults are at so many different levels. I have some students who do not understand any English and others who are a little more advanced. It can be frustrating to try to ensure that they are all learning. Most students work during the day at their jobs, so it might difficult to attend all classes.

Do the more advanced students have an opportunity to help others? What does that

assistance look like?

The more advanced students do help the others, but they speak in their native language,

sometimes adding to the challenges because I’m not sure how much their assistance helps student retention.

Have any of your students shared about helping their children with school?

One student, Dennis, brings his son who is in kindergarten to class. It is difficult for him because two languages are spoken at home. Occasionally, other children have come to class, and I find them helpful.

What rewards have you received from your PL experiences?

The rewards are just as many. I love seeing my students smile when they understand. They appreciate what I’m trying to do and work hard to meet expectations. I have had friends who came to the US not knowing any English. It’s a difficult life and if I can help just one, it’s worth it.

Besides the beach, are there other favorite pastimes?

I love to read. I am also taking a class at the library for sign language. I love to travel. In 2023 I went back to Cincinnati to stay for about a month. I also traveled to Texas, New Hampshire, and Vermont. I went on a riverboat cruise on the Rhine, which included Germany, France, Amsterdam, and Holland.

What would you like to tell others who are considering volunteering?

There is such a need, especially here in Florida. You don’t have to have a background in

teaching—just a willing spirit. It really doesn’t take a lot of time to teach one class. ESL classes help the entire community. It’s fun and you meet such interesting people. Project Light leaders and volunteers are passionate about this cause. It’s contagious.

by Sandy Chase

For more than five years, volunteer Matt Suddes continues to create a pleasurable learning experience for Project Light students who are fortunate to study basic English skills in his Beginner Level 1 and 2 classes. He strives to ensure that attendees will succeed in their community, even teaching their children the importance of education.

Project Light Board President Cheryl Evans says, “Matt is a dedicated volunteer teacher. He embraces the mission and vision of the nonprofit organization and implements them in his classroom. We couldn’t be prouder to have Matt on our team!”

As Cheryl points out, Matt goes that extra mile, just as he does when cycling, one of his favorite pastimes besides reading:

“Matt is that go-to guy. He reaches out to other teachers and helps when needed. Most days he arrives early and will stay late to plan and prepare for the next lessons. Matt also helps with basic upkeep of the facility. When he sees something that needs to be done, he does it. That’s all wonderful, but I really appreciate his positive outlook and approach to all that he does at Project Light.”

According to Matt, PL continues to expand its resources offered to immigrants under the

leadership of Executive Director Elena Farkas: offering language, computer, and citizenship classes. Becoming part of that change, Matt is even more passionate about supporting his students.

Elena’s testimonial says it all: “In many cases, Matt is my back; I can always depend on him. He is a modest man—with a curious mind and a big heart. I consider him part of my family. We can discuss things outside school.”

Wanting to improve, Matt thrives on self-learning. Elena says, “Last year, he took time to study piano. He enjoys listening to classical music. Matt also completed the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course to improve and enhance his instructional techniques. He’s a great role model for our students.”

Agreeing with others, Marva Duley, a PL fellow volunteer teacher, captures how Matt motivates others, students and teachers alike.

“Before volunteering at Project Light of Manatee, I visited Matt’s class to see whether I wanted to teach at the school. An absolute joy, he introduced me to his students and asked me questions about myself. I answered in Spanish and English, exciting the adults that I was able to speak their language.”

That’s when Marva knew that she wanted to volunteer at PL: “Matt is kind and patient towards his students, having complete control while presenting the lessons. He makes learning pleasurable. During that day, the students had fun and asked questions. What especially impressed me was that they sought him out just to chat.”

Matt attributes his 35 years as a Publix employee, where he learned how to interact with all people, saying that he uses that skill to mentor PL students. Advocating the Publix mantra, he ensures that learning in his classroom is “a pleasure.”

And Project Light is grateful for him going that extra mile—for students, board members,

teachers, and himself.

● How did you learn about Project Light?

I volunteer at Saint Joseph's Catholic Church with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, whose

mission is to assist those who are suffering. At the society, I learned that in Manatee County, there was a nonprofit that helped address challenges, especially for those who needed to learn English to improve their life and that of their family.

I screen calls and schedule appointments for people who meet society’s criteria. If the client doesn't meet our eligibility requirements, I refer them to another agency if possible. We have meetings twice a month and try to refocus on our mission.

● What about Project Light inspired/inspires you to volunteer?

I wanted to help people learn English, and that is what continues to motivate me today. PL’s mission meshes with mine: to teach adults English language skills that are necessary to function at home, on the job, and in the community.

● How has PL changed during your five years?

Elena has instituted new resources, including apps that students can use on their phones to broaden what they learn in class.

She has also instituted standardized tests (CASAS) to identify each student’s needs and their progression/completion of the ESOL (English As a Second Language) program approved by the FDOE (Florida Department of Education) and NRS (National Reporting System for Adult Education) for federally-funded adult education programs.

● What have you learned from your students?

I have learned about struggling to succeed while learning a new language. I’ve also learned about different cultures.

What do Beginner Levels 1 and 2 look like?

Levels 1 and 2 deal with basic vocabulary, paragraph composition, and basic verb tenses.

● What other levels have you coached?

During my five years, I have taught all four levels of the Ventures textbook series, which focuses on the immigrant learner and life skills. This series provides teaching materials, workbooks, and follow-up worksheets. There’s also a Teacher’s Toolkit, which includes role-playing, conversation cards, and partner dictation.

● What are your challenges?

The main challenge is keeping students focused while trying to have fun and learn. I

admire—and have learned from—other volunteers. And I’m rewarded because I come away with a positive feeling that I’m supporting others in their transition to life in our great country.

● What would you like to tell others who are considering volunteering?

I would tell prospective volunteers that working at Project Light is very rewarding because you’re nurturing others so they can adapt to living here.

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