Mattituck-Laurel Library helping immigrants prepare for exam

06/22/2015 5:59 AM |
Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden and Nancy Li, who passed the United States citizenship exam with the help of a program led by reference librarian Jerry Matovick. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden and Nancy Li, who passed the United States citizenship exam with the help of a program led by reference librarian Jerry Matovick. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

“God Bless America” was sung and cake was eaten earlier this month as Mattituck-Laurel Library reference librarian Jerry Matovcik celebrated another person who, with his help, had passed the United States citizenship exam.

Nancy Li, originally from China but now residing in Mattituck, is the third person to participate in the library’s citizenship program and pass the exam since Mr. Matovcik took it over five years ago. She was joined by library staffers and her family June 2 to celebrate her accomplishment.

“It’s fantastic,” said Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden. “It’s just so exciting that we can play a part and reach out. It’s a life-changing event for these people.”

Mr. Matovcik helps interested students prepare for the exam by going over the government-provided exam vocabulary, pronunciation and a list of 100 civics questions.

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“I think I also provide them with confidence because I’m impressed by how much they’ve studied and have learned, and I tell them that,” he said.

Ms. Li agreed that the training helped put her in the proper mindset to tackle the test.

“I felt happy, excited and relaxed,” Ms. Li said.

The naturalization test, otherwise referred to as the citizenship exam, involves answering 10 multiple choice civics questions, reading three English sentences and writing three English sentences.

In order to pass, the person taking the exam needs to get six multiple choice questions correct, read one sentence correctly and write one sentence correctly. A sample sentence is: “The capital of the United States is in Washington, D.C.”

According to data from a 2010 study by Xavier University, 97.5 percent of immigrants who take the exam pass it. This is significantly better performance than that of native-born citizens who took the civics portion of the exam. Only 66 percent of them passed, according to the study. And, the results showed, if passing required seven correct answers out of 10 instead of six, 50 percent of American-born people would fail.

Mr. Matovcik cited Andrew Carnegie’s history of funding close to 3,000 libraries to help immigrants learn American culture as a main reason Mattituck-Laurel Library places an importance on assisting those taking the citizenship test.

“When you work for a library, it’s really, it’s a service profession,” Mr. Matovcik said. “You feel as though you’re here to serve the community and to serve the public at large.”

The library also has an English conversation class every Tuesday evening to help immigrants with their English reading and speaking ability and has an English learning program on its website. Both this class and Mr. Matovcik’s coaching are free.

In addition to Ms. Li, Mr. Matovcik helped Ana Flores from El Salvador and Iza Demetriou from the Republic of Georgia gain U.S. citizenship.

“I found that the candidates are very proud to be part of the American dream,” he said. “It reinforces our pride when you see that.”

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