Thursday, September 30, 1993

Chula Vista Public Library

Chula Vista literacy team opens new worlds for adults and kids
San Diego Union-Tribune: September 22, 1993 by Pauline Repard

Donna Colson never liked books and certainly never liked libraries.

She graduated high school barely able to read or to write more than her own name.

"I kept it a secret for as long as I could," Colson said. "It bothered me all my life. It was embarrassing to me to go and do anything about it."

But do something about it she did. She gathered her courage and joined a local adult-literacy program that now has her plowing through her children's books, as well as romance novels.

"I'm 33 years old and I never thought I could feel this good about myself," Colson said at her Chula Vista apartment yesterday. "I'm eager to learn. One day, I want to write a book on literacy, to encourage others."

The family-oriented reading program that has helped to improve Colson's life got its own helping hand yesterday from a state grant that will ensure its existence for a third year.

The City Council voted last night to accept a $23,000 state Families for Literacy grant for use by the Chula Vista Literacy Team. Funds will go for books and also cover the salaries for a part-time program coordinator, clerk and library associate.

A separate, federal grant of $34,845 also was accepted by the council for the literacy team, which will use it to pay a part-time instructor to teach spelling and writing to adults. Both programs will be in English only.

The city library's Chula Vista Literacy Team offers various programs for adults and children, including a family program at eight Head Start preschools around South Bay, and a new program to identify and assist those with learning difficulties caused by dyslexia.

Meg Schofield, literacy team director, said the chain of illiteracy often is passed through generations of a family, and, in order to break that chain, both children and parents must be helped.

"Children who are not read to, exposed to books or role models who read the papers are at a disadvantage in schools," said Schofield. "Our Family Reading Program provides every family with a beautiful collection of books and magazines that they select each month."

Tutors then work one-on-one with the adults. They work in six-month stretches that may cover years before the learner is confident and competent at reading at about an eighth-grade level. About 40 families participated last year.

Schofield said the program needs more volunteer tutors who can devote two 90-minute sessions each week to adult pupils. Tutor-training sessions begin in early October.

Schofield also is taking applications for the part-time writing instructor's job, which involves small groups of adults in weekly meetings. About 60 adults are expected to sign up for the eight-week courses, which repeat throughout the year.

Nestor resident Mae Traeger, 67, knows the thrill of helping open up someone's world through reading. The retired Sears sales clerk was just named Tutor of the Year for her work in the program since 1988.

"The thought of not being able to read -- that's a fate worse than death," said Traeger. "I thought if I could teach someone to read, that would be the most wonderful feeling. Books were my window to the world. A lot of things that I didn't see, I knew about. "

Each of her three students is a family man over 40 holding a blue-collar job. She proudly noted that one gained the confidence to write memos to his boss, while another found the joy of traveling to places he was able to read about.

Traeger said adults use a number of tricks to hide their inability to read or write. "They are good at bluffing and have terrific memories, or they say they forgot their glasses, could you read this," she said.

She encouraged others to volunteer as tutors, relying upon patience, good humor and a good phonetics reading guide to overcome inexperience. Traeger noted that she never wanted to be a teacher. Indeed, though a straight-A student, she quit high school at 17 to marry.

Colson earned a Learner of the Year award this year for her persistence and achievements. She not only reads to son William, 9, and daughter Michelle, 2, but she finished a Danielle Steele romance and is working through Bill Cosby's "Fatherhood."

She graduated from high school, she said, only because the teachers were tired of her fighting and troublemaking.

"I didn't like books, I didn't like libraries," Colson recalled. But about three years ago, she decided she would have to learn to read if she wanted a better life for her children. Since then, she said, she has read more than 175 books.

"I'm not ashamed that I've been illiterate. I'm doing something about it," said Colson.

Where to call for reading programs

Adult literacy programs in the South Bay:

ENGLISH ONLY

Chula Vista Literacy Team, 691-5760.
Project Read, National City, 474-2129.
Chula Vista Adult School, 691-5760.
Sweetwater Adult School, National City, 691-5725.

SPANISH OR ENGLISH

Montgomery Adult School, 691-5670.
San Ysidro Center, 691-5667.