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A Life Reinvigorated: A Sense of Purpose in Teaching Immigrants

As an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, Xavier Munoz has been teaching English to adult immigrants and refugees in family literacy and beginning-level ESOL classes since September 2012. In addition to teaching full-time, he leads a staff task force to compile and design an online collection of instructional resources suitable for use by learners with low levels of English language proficiency. Raised in Tampa, Florida, and the younger son of two naturalized immigrants, Munoz has a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University and plans to pursue an MA in TESOL in the near future.

Xavier Muñoz

Xavier Muñoz is being honored as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change.

I am honored to be selected as a White House Champion of Change on a day that celebrates Cesar Chavez, whose life of service continues to inspire people to pursue empowerment.

I impact the community through AmeriCorps, the flagship program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. As one of several AmeriCorps members with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV), I teach classes of adult immigrants to use English as a tool for directing their own American journey. I also make it easier for volunteer instructors and class aides to provide quality instruction by taking care of administrative duties and providing sensitivity training on what beginning learners may experience in the classroom.

But I didn’t get into AmeriCorps service to give back to the community. The choice to become a full-time volunteer was a self-involved endeavor much like my time in undergrad. I pursued courses of study based primarily on what I was previously good at and what had a clearer career path. But early academic progress spiraled into incomplete assignments not submitted and anxiety-driven withdrawals from class participation that nearly brought me to a standstill. After petitioning to avoid academic suspension, I graduated through transfer credit a year later than expected.

“Should” and “ought to” dragged me forward for the following year and a half. There was no heart to follow until I found myself spending two evenings a week helping a Jamaican man to read. I would come home ablaze with reflections on how I could make the next day even better. Encouraged by this budding interest, I joined LCNV to further learn how to teach adults. 

Most of the 1500+ LCNV learners a year are immigrants. Some are high-skilled workers; many have no more than a few years of education. Some have been in the U.S. for years; some, only for days. I’m awed by their courage. I think to my father, who came to this country as a child in a three-generation Colombian family. And I think to my mother, who came to this country knowing only my father. Because of how hard my parents have worked for respect and for better lives for my brother and me, I see in my students how important education is for them and their families.

In one of my classes, I have students from the Central African Republic, China, Iran, Mexico, Somalia, and Vietnam. I feel empowered by teaching when they say how very happy they are after we get library cards and practice finding books, when they look to each other rather than to me for support in class (thereby proving that English is an international languagenot just mine but theirs, too). That I can share in their success is what propels me forward. AmeriCorps service really has given purpose and direction to my future. And it is for these adults that I will pursue a graduate degree in teaching.

So I hope that this Champion of Change recognition brings to the national consciousness the potential that radiates in the lives of adults with low levels of literacy and English proficiency and that this recognition calls to action those who recognize the needs of adult education and the broader impact it has on our families and communities.

Xavier Munoz is currently serving a second year as an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, a non-profit community-based literacy organization that specializes in providing low-level ESOL and literacy instruction to adults so as to them to participate more fully and confidently in their communities.