BEACON For Adult Literacy pivots during coronavirus pandemic


Since its founding in 1992, BEACON For Adult Literacy has grown to an organization that serves over 400 adult students while remaining true to its core mission of helping adults learn to read.

While the organization was preparing for its spring semester of classes, the coronavirus pandemic halted business as usual at the nonprofit organization. BEACON innovated and continued to deliver its classes online.

BEACON’s day-to-day operation relies heavily on its 130 volunteer instructors who teach in classrooms at one of the five locations in and around Manassas. BEACON classes primarily teach English but they also offer preparation for citizenship tests.

With their students coming from over 49 countries and a large variety of educational experiences, teachers have to be prepared to help students from a wide range of backgrounds.

In March as the coronavirus spread, BEACON stopped its class sign up and refunded any registration fees it had taken for its Spring semester. BEACON Executive Director Jen Mora Zuñiga and her staff came together and created an online class structure. Using the video conferencing system Zoom, BEACON volunteer teachers along with tech volunteers have been conducting classes during the quarantine.

“BEACON had never explored online programs before but we were very surprised by how smooth the transition was”, said Zuñiga.

With classes being online, attendance has been up to because students who may have had difficulty with transportation or getting child care don’t have to leave their homes and can access Zoom right on their phone.

“As we were facing the global pandemic, BEACON switched to remote learning; online learning helps to keep improving my educational skills because I don’t want to fall behind. My writing and vocabulary skills have significantly improved. Also, [BEACON] classes have provided me with effective communication skills that help me at work.” said Gunel Aydinova, is a BEACON student who is trying to improve her English skills so she can get certified in Information Technology.

Students with limited English language skills have felt even more negative impacts because they are not able to understand more written documents that have been put out to deal with the transition. Whether it be more e-mails from their children’s teachers, or reading health preventative measures, crucial information is harder to get if one can’t comprehend the language in which it’s written.

The organization has the vision to continue offering some online classes while going back to traditional classes at some point in time in order to serve more students. As with all non-profits, BEACON has been hit financially which makes offering these programs more challenging.

The organization was selected for the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington’s 2020-2021 class of nonprofits which increases its visibility, allows it to get more philanthropic donors, and get access to numerous professional development opportunities. The Catalogue is the region’s only locally-focused guide to giving and volunteering.

BEACON was founded by Benedictine Sister Eileen Heaps to teach a few illiterate adults to read. The organization has grown to serve over 400 adult students while remaining true to its core mission of helping adult learners reach their educational goals.

Donations for the program are accepted on the charity’s website.

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