Filomena Calabrese started her transition into adult learning in 2017. After an extensive career teaching second languages in academia, she transferred her skills to Bow Valley College teaching CLB 2 in the LINC program. By doing so, she moved from an environment where language skills were taught and assessed in isolation to one where each learner provided context. She quickly discovered that adult foundational learners come to the classroom with stories that cannot be ignored. Reading and writing are intimately linked to economic hardship, trauma, war, loss, and past emotions, and this understanding encouraged her to broaden her instruction and incorporate her learners’ stories into her work. Through her experience in the LINC program, and now at Calgary John Howard Society (“CJHS”), culture, history, emotion, and psychology all inform her approach to literacy learning.
Filomena’s impact can be seen by both her clients and her colleagues. Her passion shines through in the time and effort she spends researching new resources and techniques, her focus on plain language, and her willingness to support her colleagues. She encourages practitioners to listen to learners and value their experiences while also advising that practitioners listen to and respect their limits. Filomena believes that her value to her clients is only as strong as the value she sees in herself and recognizes the need to preserve her own story when relating to those of learners.
Her advocacy for plain language has made her the go-to plain language resource in the office. Not only does she ensure that her program posters are in plain language, but her colleagues seek out her expertise with their work so all services information is written in a language accessible to many readers. This is just one example of her dedication to removing barriers for learners to access CJHS services.
When COVID restrictions caused CJHS to move to online services, Filomena took the time to call all of her clients making sure they were comfortable with the online environment and to check in to see how they were doing amid all the changes. Her value to her clients speaks for itself in the number of learners who seek her services and come back time after time, despite negative experiences in their past learning. Now, working in a one-on-one setting, Filomena takes the time to watch learners figure things out for themselves, listens when they are talking to themselves as they work through an issue, and finds joy when a learner shares an impromptu reflection in the middle of a task. These might seem like common occurrences, but to Filomena, they are significant transformative moments for the learner and something to be celebrated.
Filomena’s work is driven by passion and a sense of moral obligation. She is heavily motivated by the values of freedom, independence, justice, and equality for all, and through her work she is helping to ensure we live in a world where those values are upheld. For her, literacy is a basic human right. As a result, Filomena teaches from a place of heart, humanity, and integrity.
Filomena Calabrese is the Literacy Coordinator at Calgary John Howard Society. She was nominated by Amy Tenove, Learning Enhanced Employment Program Coordinator and Facilitator at Calgary John Howard Society, for the Celebrating the Work in the Field section of the Calgary Learns newsletter. This section of the newsletter will profile practitioners in adult foundational learning to inspire, connect, and celebrate their work.