Detroit Free Press Guest column: Fighting illiteracy takes courage

 In America

Every day, adults in our families and workplaces are taking the courageous step to come forward, admit they don’t read well — and do something about it.

They may not read well enough to do the small  things  that many of us take for granted, like reading a prescription or a note from a teacher. And not well enough to do the big things, like filling out a job application or reading an employee manual.

Put yourself in their place. Imagine what it would be like to wake up in the morning and have to communicate with the world in a different language. How could you read your daily instructions at work or write a report for your boss?  You’d have that pit in the bottom of your stomach, and you’d feel inadequate, insecure.

And if you decide to improve your life, to take the time-consuming steps to learn to do those things big and small, you’d have to do so while maintaining all of your current responsibilities — maybe raising kids, paying the mortgage or the rent, trying to stay afloat financially.  You’d face what could be a long, lonely struggle.

This is where Reading Works and our partner network of adult literacy agencies come in. It’s where you come in, too. It’s important that we collectively signal to these courageous people that they are not alone. And the fact is, determined adults in Detroit and throughout our region are walking into learning labs and libraries and attending classes. There, they find trained teachers and volunteers devoted to helping them gain the vital literacy and fundamental skills they so desperately want.

There’s no quick fix, but the challenge can be overcome.  I’ve seen the camaraderie of adult learners and their tutors in a classroom led by a retired teacher who reminded me of my own favorites. I have felt the commitment and determination of the tutors and teachers across Reading Works’ 10 impact partners, the agencies that are a lifeline to adult learners.  Reading Works has set an ambitious goal of encouraging 20,000 adult learners by 2020.  To achieve this, we’re working with our partners in three key areas:

  •  Improving community well-being: Our impact partners are helping adults improve basic literacy skills so they can be actively involved in their children’s education, understand health issues and treatments and become better informed citizens. We seek partnerships with more community-based organizations to spread literacy programs  throughout Detroit and the region. And we seek more volunteer tutors and teachers to work for our impact partners.
  • Creating a better workforce:  Many adults want one thing above all — economic well-being for themselves and their families.  Reading Works is supporting the City of Detroit’s workforce development, and through our impact partners we ensure a pipeline that carries adults from the earliest stage of learning to employment.  This includes career assessment, earning-while-learning opportunities,  apprenticeship pathways, work readiness, work-study programs, mentoring and the reduction of barriers (personal transportation, health issues, child care, more) that can distract adults from their studies.
  • Boosting adults up the economic ladder:  Adults with reading deficiencies often find themselves under-employed or in jobs where they struggle to keep up, with no possibility of advancing to stable, good-paying careers. We seek partnerships with employers to allow on-site or after-hours literacy instruction for their employees, helping them obtain industry-specific skilled-training certificates and more.

There is  a comforting back-to-school excitement for so many of us at this time of year — kids find out who their teachers are, families shop for supplies, parents and children prepare for the morning ritual of getting off to school every day. It’s a lot more complicated for adult learners. But for those adults who are committed to improving their lives, each step forward can bring its own excitement. Let’s come together to support them and let them know they’re not alone.

 

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