Wednesday, August 30, 1989

Ventura County Library

VENTURA SPELLING BEE TO AID ADULT LITERACY
Daily News: August 6, 1989 by Carol Bidwell

The Ventura County Literacy Coalition is trying to line up businesses for an unusual spelling bee - and the group hopes the event spells M-O-N-E-Y for adult literacy programs.

Companies are being asked to pay $300 to sponsor a team of two spellers for the Oct. 17 Executive Spelling Bee, said Pat Flanigan, coordinator of both the 2-month-old coalition and the county Library Services Agency's reading program for adults.

This is the first year for the event, which Flanigan called "a lighthearted adaptation of the traditional school spelling bee you either loved or hated as a kid."

Executive Spelling Bee is modeled after a similar event held last year in Santa Paula, in which teams of civic leaders and business representatives tried to outspell each other to raise money for literacy.

As a special gimmick to add a bit of fun - and to raise more money for adult literacy - teams that misspell a word or do not want to try can buy a new word for $100. Or for $100, a team can pass along a particularly difficult word to another team of its choice. That team can either take a whack at spelling the word, or pay $100 to pass it along to another team.

School spelling champions from several communities will also attend, and a team can pass its word along to their area's champ by paying $100, said Flanigan.

Companies that want to sponsor spelling teams can call Flanigan at (805) 652-6294. The event will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Doubletree Hotel, 2055 E. Harbor Blvd.

The evening will also honor volunteer tutors and adult learners in five local learn-to-read programs, Flanigan said.

Since the county's adult literacy program began in 1984, more than 1,500 county residents have been interviewed, tested for reading proficiency and either referred to other community programs or matched with tutors. Volunteers have given more than 15,000 hours of tutoring time, said Flanigan.

Still, the literacy program is reaching only a small number of county residents who cannot read, Flanigan said.

According to state Department of Education figures, an estimated 82,000 or more county residents read below the fifth-grade level, and of those people, nearly 58,000 can't read at all, she said.

"For one reason or another, they just fell through the cracks when they were young," Flanigan said. "Sometimes, they've done a lot of moving around as children, from one school to another . . . or the home didn't have the right atmosphere for learning. Often, the parents couldn't read themselves. Sometimes the parents had learning difficulties themselves."

Some of the adults who cannot read had vision or hearing problems as children that made learning difficult.

"For the most part, they have normal intelligence," she said. "They just didn't get enough attention when they were kids."

There are many reasons adults decide to finally learn to read, Flanigan said, but most of them are job-related. One of the men in the program said recently he chose to enter the program before his boss discovered his inability to read, she said.

"He had been giving things to his secretary, telling her, 'You'll need to know about this. Read it and let me know what you think,' " Flanigan said. ''And she would report back to him, which is how he would know what was in the paper.

"He's been doing this for a long time, but he said he thinks his boss is catching on to the fact that he can't read," Flanigan said.

It takes six to 18 months for adult learners to complete the program, and about 75 percent of those who begin tutoring complete the full course, compared to 45 percent of adult learners nationwide, Flanigan said.

"We get the most motivated people," she said.

Although many of the county's homeless residents are probably in need of tutoring, none of them have enrolled in the program, Flanigan said.