Harry and Stephanie Phillips may have only been volunteering for a few years with the Catherine McAuley Center, but they have over sixty years of combined experience as teachers. Stephanie taught elementary and secondary schools in Iowa City and specialized in English as a Second Language (ESL) for new students arriving from other countries. Eventually, Stephanie went on to become a principal in the school district. “I taught secondary language arts,” says Harry. “For the last 13 years of my 32 years in education I taught a year-long course in writing and expressive language, a requirement for all 7th graders in the Iowa City schools.”
After retiring, the couple were looking for opportunities to volunteer, when Stephanie saw an advertisement in the local paper. The tutoring role and their background with teaching English seemed a logical choice. “We always enjoyed our work, enjoyed our interactions and learned so much about our world from the students we taught. We’ve known for a long time about the good work done by the Catherine McAuley Center, so it just seemed to fit.”
Harry and Stephanie find it satisfying when they can help a person from a foreign culture navigate complicated systems or help them find necessities. They have helped students with everything from writing a resume, to understanding daycare policies, to buying a car or navigating the internet. They find each session memorable in small ways and view education as a reciprocal agreement – they teach, but they learn from their students as well. “Without exception, the students we have worked with have been grateful and kind and I feel we learn as much in a session as they do,” Harry says.
Although they haven’t been able to meet with students in person due to the pandemic, Harry and Stephanie look forward to being able to volunteer in the spacious new facility. And they encourage others to give it a try. From their perspective, with things being so polarized – it’s always a good thing to meet people from around the globe. It helps develop common understandings – and that’s something we could all use a little more of.