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Leigh Smith: Giving adult learners a leg up in life

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Posted on Thursday, February 11, 2021, at 8:20 PM


Leigh Smith is an English Language Learning (ELL) Instructor at the Franklin & Grand Isle Learning Center of Vermont Adult Learning (VAL). Leigh began volunteering at VAL in 2008 while pursuing her Master’s degree.  She has worked at VAL since 2014.

As an ELL instructor for Franklin & Grand Isle, Leigh instructs speakers of other languages and helps them with their English. She is also able to relate her experience living abroad in Germany as a way to empathize with the cultural, emotional, and mental challenges that students could be facing living in a foreign country.

Leigh earned her undergraduate degree in English at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Following her undergraduate education, she was a copywriter for several years, then a legal secretary in Boston. It was not until she moved to Vermont in the 1990s with her husband that she became involved in the English Second Language (ESL) field. She earned her Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Saint Michael’s College in 2012.

Leigh enjoys everything about her work at VAL; it makes her: “Happier than (fill in the blank).” She believes the most wonderful thing about her work is watching students begin to pick up conversational skills; it is not just “seeing that light bulb” turn on, but also seeing the joy that comes out of a connection. She also loves the freedom of being able to build and shape her own curriculum around the needs of the classroom instead of having standardized requirements.

To Leigh, a work-life balance is a “total joke,” but she does not say that resentfully. She constantly considers the question: “What can I bring into the students’ education?” and spends lots of time planning for classes to create a relevant curriculum. However, Leigh does try to get air and sun every day, walk her dog, keep Sundays free, and end her work days by 8:00 p.m.

Leigh thinks that VAL’s motto, “Learning lasts a lifetime” truly encompasses why VAL’s work matters. She says that adults with learning needs or desires are sometimes lost in our K-12 and higher education world. VAL allows adults who are struggling or want to make more of a second language learning experience improve their lives, their careers, their parenting skills, their critical analysis skills, etc. Overall, VAL gives adults a leg up in life and helps get them to a place of more freedom.

By Rebecca Shames, Development & Communications Intern

© Vermont Adult Learning

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