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Class prepares students for citizenship test

Samantha Garcia, 26, teaches a U.S. Citizenship prep class at the Berwyn Public Library. F. Amanda Tugade
Samantha Garcia, 26, teaches a U.S. Citizenship prep class at the Berwyn Public Library. F. Amanda Tugade

BERWYN – Inside a makeshift classroom at the Berwyn Public Library, Samantha Garcia stands at the front near a whiteboard, quizzing a handful of adults about America’s early beginnings. In Spanish, she goes over the U.S. Constitution coupled with important dates and ideas, but chooses to leave key historical terms and select words in English.

The weekly evening class serves as a free prep course for the U.S. Citizenship test, and Garcia believes that teaching it in a dual language has a twofold effect.

“You need that foundation in order for it to make sense,” said the 26-year-old Garcia, a school teacher in Berwyn. “I tell them it won’t do much good for you to go home and memorize. Here, we have conversations. We apply it, and you build on that knowledge than just memorizing.”

As a woman of color who teaches social justice, Garcia leaves the room to talk about current events and political figures with a focus on the role of people of color in America’s history.

Growing up, she recalled how marginalized communities were taught in her classes and how they appeared in textbooks “in just like a sentence or two.” She refused to revert to that cycle and teach her students the same way.

“I try to include that in my lessons because not only is it a way to show them that they’ve always been in history, but it’s also a way for them to see how they contributed,” Garcia said.

At the library, Josephine Tucci, manager of reference services, explained how she, Garcia and other staff members have worked to become more inclusive and create resources to help Berwyn’s immigrant community.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018, about 63 percent of Berwyn’s population is comprised of Latino residents, and the library’s bilingual services such as its ESL classes and citizenship prep classes cater toward Spanish-speaking patrons.

For Tucci, the public library is a reflection of its neighborhood. Having bilingual staff on hand for help, printing flyers or even promoting events via social media in Spanish and English are small, crucial examples of how the library works with Berwyn’s residents.

On a larger scale, the library partners with local organizations such as Project CARE (Community Adult Reading Experience) based out of Morton College to shed light on its many initiatives.

At the moment, Tucci is working on turning the Berwyn Public Library into an official site through a federal partnership where trained staff can help patrons with the naturalization process, renewing DACA applications and more.

The pathway to citizenship can be tough, lonely and financially draining, and the citizenship test is just one aspect of an emotional, often stressful ride. As a whole, Tucci and Garcia want to offer the library as a space where people of different ages and backgrounds feel welcome and can find a support system. In fact, when it comes to the citizenship class, Tucci calls Garcia and her sister, also a volunteer teacher, the “heart and soul.”

“It’s a really life-changing thing to go through, and it’s a long process,” Tucci said. “And everybody’s journey is different. The test is kind of the last thing, and we try to make students feel as comfortable and confident as possible.”

If you go

What: Citizenship study group

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays

Where: Berwyn Public Library, 2701 S. Harlem Ave.

More info: Visit or call 708-795-8000 ext. 3087

Si vas

Que: Grupo de estudio de ciudadanía

Dondé: Biblioteca publica de Berwyn, 2701 S. Harlem Ave.

Cuando: Miércoles, 5 to 7 p.m.

Más información: Visite o llame al 708-795-8000 ext. 3087

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