September is National Literacy month. Did you know that nearly 30 million adults living in the United States lack the literacy skills to read anything more challenging than a child’s picture book? Sadly, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level. Locally, the 2019 Community Needs Assessment survey found that 28% of adults in Monterey County lack literacy skills.
As an early reader born into a family that subscribed to two daily newspapers and regularly read books, I am distressed to learn that two-thirds of American children living in poverty have no books at home.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading proficiency by third grade is one of the most important predictors of whether a student will graduate high school. Children without access to books fall behind, lose interest in school, and often fall prey to juvenile criminality.
It should come as no surprise then that 75 percent of state prison inmates have not completed high school or can be classified as low literate.
Three years ago, I became a volunteer literacy tutor through the Monterey County Free Libraries Adult Literacy program. I can’t say enough good things about the county’s literacy program or the progress my learner has made. I recently spoke with Sarah Hoeffel, literacy and volunteer services manager, about the program. Despite COVID shelter-in-place orders and the closure of the libraries for nearly a year, over 50 students are participating in one or more of the following: one-on-one tutoring for adults, family literacy kits with books and activities for children under the age of 10 with family members receiving literacy tutoring, or a Zoom reader’s circle for adults.
Until the availability of COVID vaccines and the reopening of local library branches, tutors and learners upped their technology skills and learned to use Zoom, FaceTime or What’s Ap to continue their studies. It was a big leap for my learner who had never used a computer, but she was absolutely committed to improving her reading, writing, and speaking skills and has made enormous progress despite the pandemic.
According to Hoeffel, there is a waitlist for literacy volunteers made worse because of the challenges of COVID. Nationwide, literacy programs struggle with long student waiting lists with less than 10 percent of those in need receiving services. My learner waited three years for a tutor and that was pre-pandemic.
Wondering if you can make a difference? Here is what one learner recently shared in an email to Hoeffel, “I am so excited to get back to sessions with my tutor. Thanks to what I learned from her I now have better job, so I am less tired, have more time with my family, and they pay me better!” Wow! Imagine knowing that you made that kind of a difference in someone’s life.
Want to explore becoming a volunteer literacy tutor? For more information contact Hoeffel at 831.883.7549 or firstname.lastname@example.org
©2021 Mary Jeanne Vincent. All rights reserved.