Adiós to Jon 

Jon and the crew in Albany for State Advocacy Day, February 2020

After 13 years, we cannot believe that we will say goodbye to our very own Jon Eckblad this Friday. While Jon has worn many hats at University Settlement, you may know him as our program’s assistant director. You may not know that he started our school blog here at, over ten years ago! I’ll never forget all the videos he created for our program and the blog. Throughout his time here, Jon captured our uproarious holiday parties, garnered participation from his colleagues to make grammar videos, and showed us how easy it is for students to advocate for their own education and other programs. Jon is a reason we have a YouTube channel today, starting from his first video for our program. Professor June Foley of the NYU Gallatin Writing Program had the honor of interviewing Jon as he reflected on his fondest memories, what he’s learned about running an adult ESOL program, and what he’s up to next.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement Society? 

When I first moved to New York, I worked at some for-profit ESOL schools and after a couple years I felt like I wanted to explore non-profit work. So I think I just looked for jobs online, applied to University Settlement, had an interview, accepted the job, filled out my W2 (or is it a W4?), and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Can you tell us about your various positions and responsibilities over the years?  

I started as a part-time ESOL teacher, then I became a full-time ESOL teacher, then I became Curriculum-Technology Specialist, and finally Assistant Director. I’ve really been a jack of all trades: teaching and subbing, writing curriculum, interviewing and hiring, doing advocacy work, making videos and doing blog posts, ordering books and supplies and taking inventory, registering and testing students, arranging and leading workshops, going on field trips, helping write grant proposals and funding applications, updating computers, doing data entry, filing papers, hauling boxes and office furniture, serving food at class parties, co-leading teacher orientations, doing class observations, participating in union negotiations, revising student resumes, making calls to NYCHA about repairs, collaborating with other University Settlement programs, making work schedules, attending tons of meetings (both in person and on Zoom) and writing countless emails.      

Has there been one aspect of your job that’s your favorite? 

Of course, it’s the students. I’ve always enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from all around the world and trying to help them reach their goals. I also really get a kick out of assigning writing assignments—having students write on certain topics, revising, then having them read aloud in class and having their classmates respond. And then submitting to the Literacy Review, which a few of my students were lucky enough to get into.   

What has been your greatest challenge?  

Scheduling. My sense of time is really hazy, and I simply cannot wrap my head around multiple days, dates, hours, and locations.  

Any special memories? Any special memories of colleagues and students? 

My memory is very bad, but I always enjoyed attending the Literacy Review readings at NYU with my students. And often, when I’m walking around the Lower East Side or Chinatown during my lunch break, I run into former students. It’s really great seeing familiar faces by accident—it feels like I’m living in a small town where everyone knows each other rather than a metropolis. It’s also been a pleasure to see current and former students become my colleagues. Quite a few have gone on to work for other programs at University Settlement and three now work in our program, Meribeth Gao, Khanbibi Ybrash, and Mayra Mantilla. Mayra is actually going to be my replacement, which I think is great! It’s also been great working with director Lucian Leung and program associate Leanne Fung, who have been working in the program a year longer than I have. I started in 2009 and they started in 2008, I think. 

What are some things you’ve learned from your experience? 

I’ve really become a more disciplined and detail-oriented teacher and administrator, which is mostly due to the influence of Lucian. I think I’ve also learned just about everything that goes into running a free English program in NYC—and let me tell you, there’s a lot that goes into it. 

What do you plan to do now? Will it involve travel?  

Yes, in September I’m going to Greece, where I will hike to the top of Mount Parnassus and also consult with the Oracle of Delphi about next steps.   

Anything you’d like to add?  

I’m grateful for the opportunity Lucian gave me to become Assistant Director, and also the guidance both she and Jennifer Vallone, who is the Associate Executive Director of Adult Programs, provided me over the past few years. Additionally, I’m at ease knowing that my old duties will be in the very capable (more capable than mine, to be honest) hands of Mayra, who will do a great job and who has already done so much for our program. I also want to wish everyone a happy and successful school year and I’m sure I’ll see you all around…  

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An Author In Our Midst

The name you see on the lower right hand corner of the above book belongs to one of our teachers here at the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program. Mary Staub, teacher of daytime classes 3A and 3P, recently published a biking guide to NYC.


Best Bike Rides New York City describes more than 40 of the greatest recreational rides in New York City. Road rides, rail trails, bike paths, and single-track mountain bike rides all get included. Most rides are in the 5 to 30 mile range, allowing for great afternoon outings and family adventures.

About the Author:

Mary Staub is a freelance journalist and passionate cyclist who has been exploring the New York City metro area by bike for more than ten years. Biking is part of who she is and always has been. Whether for commuting or for leisure, whether in sub-freezing temperatures or on sultry summer days, whether where she lives or where she travels, biking is what she has always done. Inherently inquisitive, her interests have led her into various journalistic territories including travel writing, community reporting, mainstream news, and dance writing. Publications she’s written for include Travel + Leisure, the New York Sun, Basler Zeitung, dance journals including Ballet Tanz and Dancer Magazine, the technology news site Tech Media Network. She lives in Brooklyn.

To buy Mary’s book, click here.

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Au Revoir, Elsie


Another teacher will also not be returning this September: Elsie Choi. Elsie has been with the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program for 11 years – she started when she was 19 years old, according to her. Elsie is a veteran teacher who has decided to take some time off – right now, she’s on a cruise ship somewhere in the Northern Atlantic. Always camera shy, we don’t have any good videos of Elsie, but below you can read something she wrote about her classes a couple years ago. We’ll miss you, Elsie!

My Year with 1A & 1B

By Elsie Choi

August 29, 2012 was Orientation Day already after a long summer of relaxation.  It was time to meet a whole new group of students and get the show ready for the road. I was a little nervous. First impressions are very important. What should I wear for the day? I am sure that my students feel the same way. They were there to check me out, and at the same time, wondering what is in store for them for the coming year.

A few students come in way before class time but the majority can barely make it. There is a tendency that people come in later and later as the year goes on. Of course they have tons of excuses… my children, my dog, my watch….”See, my watch says 9…”

Students gradually become friends and chat. Think that they do not know enough English to do so? No problem. Their native language kicks in naturally. Or, a mixture of languages will do. “I did my homework la. (Chinese)”, “Is this good ma? (Chinese)”,“Michael is outside ah! (Chinese)”.  ALL ENGLISH! …..ALL ENGLISH!

Oh! No! Test again?! Eyes are wandering around. Some just want to get that 100 percent in the test. Believe it or not, a few people know they are right but still glance at their neighbor’s paper to see if the other person is doing it correctly. What a busybody!

Homework is usually done by most students but it is like pulling teeth for some. To enforce this requirement, it causes more work for the teacher to follow up and make sure that make-up homework is done the next day. A threat using Michael’s name is useful, sometimes.

Well, the year is going by swiftly despite the heartache and headache we have had. We have shared tears and laughter with personal happenings and have grown together. Let’s celebrate. Food is the number one choice. Students feed the teacher, me, all year long. I thank you all by showing you my forever growing “muffin top.”

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Adios, Cliff


One of our longtime teachers here are the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program has left us for greener pastures. His name is Cliff Prisament, and he taught here from 2010 to 2014. We’ve collected some old material about Cliff as a way of commemorating his time with us, a video interview with him and a little something he wrote about his main hobby:

If you look carefully at my wrist while I’m teaching, you might notice I wear a different watch almost every day.  Since 2005, I have been collecting and fixing watches as an amateur horologist (someone who fixes watches and clocks).

In 2005, I moved to Shanghai, China to teach children English.  While I was there, I found several markets that sold very cheap, antique watches (watches that are very old).  I fell in love with watches and it became my favorite hobby.  I would sometimes buy 2 watches a week!  In 2007, I owned almost 40 watches!  Now, I only own about 15 watches.

My oldest watch is a Mickey Mouse watch made in 1933!  It’s half a century older than me!

Most people just buy a watch because they think it’s beautiful or fashionable.  When I buy a watch, I buy it because of its movement.

There are three types of watch movements.  They are quartz, automatic and manual-wind.

1. Quartz watches are the most popular.  Your watch is probably a quartz watch.  Quartz watches have a small, round, silver battery that powers the watch hands.  Quartz watches are the most accurate. 

2. Automatic watches do not have a battery.  They have a rotor, which winds a mainspring that moves the hands.  So if you wear an automatic watch every day, you never need to change a battery.

3. Manual-wind watches only have a mainspring and no rotor or battery.  You have to wind them every day or they will stop moving!

Any questions about watches?  Let me know!

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