Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Finding the gaps and figuring out how to fill them


Today I filled in for Sylvia at the Educational Outreach Center for a couple of hours. During those two hours I got "nothing" done...nothing in the sense that I didn't get to check a single thing off of my list and actually ended up adding to my to-do list.

But getting "nothing" done is actually the crux of my work. It's very hard to explain this to funders.

While I was getting "nothing" done, I met a lady who came in to use the computers. She had signed up for the job skills class Sylvia is recruiting for. As we started talking, she explained that she is 25 years old. She has two boys. She hung out with the wrong people in high school and ended up with a criminal record (a misdemeanor) that has something to do with money. Though she was 17 when it happened, it still affects her ability to get jobs. She is looking for clerical work (because of her current abilities) but has thought about nursing. The more we talked, however, she admitted to me that her real dream and desire is to work in early childhood education and own her own childcare center. We discussed Eastfield (Dallas Community College), which has a great childhood education program that ultimately feeds into Texas A&M-Commerce. I really believe she will move forward with her desires.

Talking to her reinforced my thought that we need someone who works specifically with people (young teens, seniors, and adults alike) to encourage, provide information, guide, and support the people wanting to further their education. Some people aren't sure how to go about it, don't have correct information, or just fear failure.

As I continued to do "nothing," another lady came in. I would guess she is in her 50s or 60s. She was trying to find someplace that can teach her to read. She explained that she has "graduated" from LIFT (an adult literacy program at the public library) and is now reading at something like a 3rd grade level. She moved on to the Lincoln Instructional Center...only to find out this year that Lincoln wanted/needed the classrooms and, thus, cancelled the program. We started calling around...Dallas Reads...closed, Mary Crowley Academy...closed. Other programs claimed to offer reading and writing, but they were GED programs. This lady said she is not ready for GED yet.

Where are the programs that can help people learn to read??? I am going to continue to look for adult literacy programs but it seems like they are pretty much non-existent. How can someone improve their situation if there aren't places that can help them???

This is a gap that needs to be filled. She is not the only person I know who cannot read. She is not the only person who has the desire to learn. I hope we can find a way to fill that gap. Our friends deserve that.

While we continue to look for programs and explore opening a program ourselves, I am hoping to find some software that we can install on our computers so that my new friend can continue to move forward. (If you know of any quality adult literacy software, please feel free to offer suggestions!) But while computer software is a good band-aid, people need personal connections.

Today I was able to connect with people. The people I connected with helped me understand and discover some things that I hadn't realized before. Listening to their wants and needs will, hopefully, lead us to developing relevant programs for the community.

Nothing got checked off of my to-do list today. But, in my opinion, things got done.

The National Adult Literacy Survey found that 21 percent of American adults had Level 1 literacy skills, and 27 percent of American adults had Level 2 literacy skills. While there are no exact grade equivalents, Level 1 literacy is generally defined as less than fifth-grade reading and comprehension skills, and Level 2 is generally defined as fifth through seventh grades reading and comprehension skills. Although many Level 1 adults could perform tasks involving simple texts and documents, all adults scoring at Level 1 displayed difficulty using certain reading, writing, and computational skills considered necessary for functioning in everyday life. Almost all Level 1 adults could read a little, but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child. While most of these adults are not considered "illiterate," they do not have the full range of economic, social, and personal options that are open to Americans with higher levels of literacy skills.
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