Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

springs literacy 3550 webDominican Sister Maryann Lawlor, executive director of the Springs Learning Center in New Haven, right, reviews a lesson with student Lorena Tecpa at the center, which opened in March 2002. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)

NEW HAVEN – Now in its 16th year, the Springs Learning Center continues to build upon an impressive track record achieved by almost 300 volunteer tutors who have provided literacy training to 1,000 adult learners, including 30 who have gone on to become citizens.

“Our learners come at various academic levels to learn to speak English,” said Dominican Sister Maryann Lawlor, executive director, who has guided the center since its beginning.

“Some are advanced and come to develop skills for their professional vocation, while others are at a very basic level and need to learn to build confidence in speaking English,” she explained.

Founded by the Dominican Sisters of Peace in March of 2002, the literacy center is housed in the former rectory of St. Rose of Lima Parish. It provides instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship. Learners come from well over 20 nations, including those from Spanish-speaking countries and the former Soviet Union.

Currently, 40-55 volunteer tutors serve about 100 learners a year. The average learner comes for three months to five years, while one student has been with the center from the beginning.

“Our primary work is an hour-long, integrated lesson of reading, speaking and writing during which students learn to speak with confidence and gain an understanding of the structure of the English language,” said Sister Maryann.

Beyond English lessons, tutors also assist students with basic skills to go shopping, engage socially, navigate the local community and understand the work environment. Some want to get a job, to advance their careers or simply to talk with their child’s teacher.

“I had a lot of questions when I first came,” said Lorena Tecpa, who has attended the center for two years. “My son started preschool and brought homework that I couldn’t do with him. So I came here because I wanted to speak and write in English for him and for me, too.

“I like the center because I can take one-on-one lessons,” which she said is a better learning fit for her than group classes that she had previously attended. Plus, she proudly states, she now can take orders in English at the restaurant where she works.

Sister Maryann is enthusiastic about the center, and easily greets all who enter with a lively, welcoming embrace.

“It’s wonderful when you see the light go on … when they start to think in English,” she said of her students.

As for the volunteers, she noted, “Our tutors are humbled to be able to share this service with the students, to be part of their lives.”

“Seven volunteers have been with us for 15 years, and one man has been with us for 10 years,” she said. “Without the faithfulness of our volunteers, our program would not exist.”

She listed the following among the center’s successes: students who have gone on to higher education; entrepreneurs who have opened a bakery, computer business and take-out restaurant; one student who went on to Harvard University to become a systems analyst; and a surgeon-student who learned English and went on to get her residency card, citizenship, pass her medical boards and begin practicing medicine.

The Springs Learning Center is always in need of funds for materials and rent. Information about how to do both is available at

Prospective volunteers who want to participate in the center’s three-hour tutor training may call the center at 203-787-1025 or send an email to

“The dedication of the volunteers is wonderful,” said Sister Maryann. “It’s always a positive when you can give of yourself.” Plus, she added with a wink, “Seniors who volunteer live longer.”