By Carol Masshardt
Teaching, leading, learning, language, culture and community are interwoven and inseparable concepts in the life and work of Veronica Robson, Program Director of Adult Education at the Laboure Center. Originally from Mexico, and then educated in Boston, and back to Mexico to start a small school, onto London she eventually returned to Boston College for a master’s degree. With an example of community inspired by her parents, nurtured through her work at El Centro in Jamaica Plain, Veronica brings an intellectual and emotional connection to her work. About two hundred people eager to learn English at five different levels count on her team of twelve to not only teach, but to understand their challenges and dreams. They come from across the world, Central and South America, Ukraine, Russia, Asia, and Cape Verde to name but a few.
“I have known racism, and it takes listening and understanding to know that the people who come here are like everyone else; they want to do better, to work, to contribute and be proud. Language doesn’t limit intelligence or motivation,” she said.
Starting at the sister program, El Centro in Jamaica Plain, Veronica came to the Laboure to establish a similar program just four months before COVID changed everything.
“I will say that it took a toll. We worked on zoom, but our students were losing jobs, pay, and housing and needed food, and had health issues, and I truly belief you can’t learn while there are these environmental problems. We worked day and night,” she said. She has both honest optimism and also an ability to look at exhaustion and depletion and to learn through it.
“It was a very difficult and not a short time, for us and our students. Day by day, we survived, and now back in person, we can thrive again,” she said.
Teamwork is more than a coined phase to this impressive and focused leader/administrator/teacher/coach, and spiritual center of a much-needed program.
“Even during Covid we never stopped having our team meetings. It was what we needed, to be together and think together. We went above and beyond. You see it’s a community. The students help each other regardless of where they came from. They all escaped something that wasn’t good and are trying to move ahead. We all are in it together,” she said. “I always knew I would be doing something that involved teaching and cultures and community. My mother started a bookstore, my father, a Civil Engineer, taught us that you find ways to help others, and not just relatives but people you don’t know.”
At Catholic Charities Laboure Center, there are intensive programs that meet during the day, and a slower paced program for people who work at night, observable hard work, joyous graduations and proud students.
“My satisfaction is in hearing that someone got a job, or promotion, a raise,” she said. In fact, the program at the Laboure is one of the most successful in outcomes, according to the criteria established by the Department of Education and there is little surprise why.
On a recent day, Boris Coreau, journeyed from East Boston, to meet with staff member, Trevor Farrell and bravely shared his goal.
“I was told about this program by my friend and co-worker and heard it was good and the people helped with English. I would like to be a chef,” he said. With careful attention and seemingly few barriers, he was assigned to begin a “Level Five” course before he left that morning.
As more students with remarkable stores and high hopes await Veronica Robson on a January morning, she reflects on the layers of learning.
“We have some interns from BC who really have never met an immigrant., “she said, explaining the eye-opening experience. “A community makes a school and that includes everyone.”
Veronica Robson and her team also have dreams, and she starts with one of team member Trevor Farrell. “He has an idea for an on-site workplace that relates to the school and provides the job training and English practice. Isn’t that a good idea!” she said.
But more immediately, it is convincing funding sources how vital a new teacher will be and educating about the kinds of needs her students have to address as they strive. Maybe it was a combination of watching her mother establish a bookstore Mexico or her father, reaching out to neighbors known and unknown and her own education, mentors and experience that she uses every day that formed this leader’s courage to meet often marginalized people at the heart of their desires. “Everyone wants to be proud, “she said, and has hundreds of examples in front of her at South Boston’s Laboure Center
(Carol Masshardt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)