Dee Dee O’Brien grew up in Los Angeles. She studied molecular biology and biochemistry in college before earning a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She spent time working in research labs and, eventually, shifted her career to graphic arts. An eye for detail in a lab specimen translates easily to an eye for detail in design. She also actively studies French, a helpful skill in her role at VAL.
Dee Dee has volunteered in VAL’s Beginning Literacy classes, alongside teacher Anne Clift, since 2017. She supports English Language Learning for New American students, many of whom are refugees. Dee Dee helps students develop their reading and conversation skills in practical ways that help them acclimate to life in Vermont.
“These students really want to learn,” Dee Dee said. “Our students, in general, show absolute reverence for Anne (the teacher). They know I’m there to help them, too. They are so thankful to have access to education. One student arrived in the United States about seven or eight years ago and never had time to learn English. She was so shy at first. It’s wonderful to see her progress.”
Twice weekly, two-hour classes conducted in-person shifted to online classes via WhatsApp and Zoom technologies when the COVID-19 Pandemic disrupted human activity and health. Anne and Dee Dee helped students, some of whom had limited digital skills, transition to virtual learning. They now meet students, virtually, four times a week in one-hour classes. Ensuring students have access to technology and know how to use it are key to maintaining learning continuity and human connection.
“I love the combination of people from so many different countries. We currently have students from China, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Dee Dee said. “I like when I can use my knowledge of French to help a student (e.g., from the DRC) understand. We’ve all become friends.”
“Dee Dee and I have worked together teaching beginning English language learners since January 2017 – almost 4 years,” said Anne Clift. The students love her and it is obvious that she cares about them, too. When we had in-person classes (pre-COVID-19), she knew which students needed the most help and made sure to sit next to them to give them the extra support during class. She would bring in little snacks and treats for them for holidays and talk about the holidays. Now, as we teach remotely, the students always get a big smile when they see her with them on Zoom. She is an exemplary volunteer and a huge help to me in class as well.”
“Dee Dee is incredibly sensitive and caring and is able to keep the students motivated and engaged,” said Maureen Cooney-Mooney, VAL’s Volunteer Coordinator in Burlington. “She is a ray of sunshine in their lives and because of her; the students continue to make progress towards their goals. We are very fortunate that Dee Dee chooses to volunteer at Vermont Adult Learning.”
To learn more about Volunteering at Vermont Adult Learning, please contact Katherine at kstamper@vtadultlearning.