Sunday, March 12, 2006

Burbank Public Library

Words of Wisdom in Burbank
Daily News of Los Angeles: March 8, 2006 by Rick Coca

Anna Nelson, a volunteer tutor with the Burbank Adult Literacy program, had been warned at orientation that many of the people she and her fellow volunteers would teach would view reading as a chore - not a pleasurable pastime.

Typically, students signed up for the program because they didn't want to lose a job that required reading, got sick of taking an oral driver's license test or wanted to help their children do homework.

They weren't there because they wanted to cozy up in front of the fireplace with a good book.

So after months of working with a student who had very little reading skills coming into the program, Nelson, a retired school nurse and Burbank resident, was ecstatic to learn that the woman had stated in a curriculum report that she enjoyed reading.

``It was Christmas all over again,'' Nelson said. ``(I) wanted my learner to learn how to read and enjoy it, and she is.''

William S. Byrne has been literacy coordinator for the program since 1998. The program is largely state-funded and open to English-speaking adults 18 and over with an eighth-grade or lower reading level. The program is ongoing and pairs about 30 students and volunteer teachers.

The volunteers undergo a 15-hour workshop to prepare them to teach the students. They then meet with the students once or twice a week for a minimum of six months.

Byrne said the students come from all walks of life, encompassing a cross section of society. Typically, students are in their 30s.

``That's when the adults are finding out they need to do something about this problem,'' Byrne said.

Many come in with low self-esteem, thinking that they're not intelligent.

``Most of them have a lot of other good skills, like memory,'' Byrne said. ``(Their illiteracy is) something they've hidden for decades.''

While many students see reading as a means to an end, through the Families for Literacy program the library helps foster a culture of reading within the learners' families. The program is designed for adult learners with children under 5 years of age. The families attend a traditional story hour in which books are read to the children. Crafts and dinner are also provided, and the children go home with free books.

``Traditionally, if the moms and dads don't read well, the kids are probably going to struggle just as much,'' Byrne said.

The program also encourages the adults to use the resources and programs the library offers to help their children become skilled and enthusiastic readers.

Byrne said that many of the graduates of the literacy program go on to earn college certificates for their jobs and vocational licenses in real estate and nursing.

Volunteer teacher Nelson said a year ago she and her student started with the alphabet and the sounds of vowels and consonants.

``It's like laying bricks,'' Nelson said. ``Pretty soon there's a word that she can identify and read. And pretty soon there's a sentence that she can read. It's amazing. You're building your own little wall there - or a mansion.''

Nelson's student has since taken and completed two computer classes.

``She's a bright person,'' Nelson said. ``She missed out on some things because she couldn't read.''

Nelson explained how far her student has come in just a year.

``She's reading her computer manuals, so that's pretty high,'' Nelson said.

On March 30, Burbank Literacy Services will will hold its 10th anniversary fundraising Trivia Challenge at Castaway restaurant, with proceeds going toward its various literacy programs. To purchase tickets to the event, which will also include a silent auction and door prizes, or to inquire about the literacy program, call (818) 238-5577.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

READ/Orange County

Aliso library hosts adult literacy campaign READ/Orange County assists overcoming illiteracy.
Orange County Register: March 1, 2006 by Salvador Hernandez

Volunteers only need to bring a pencil and paper. Students find the necessary reading material everywhere they look.

They find it on medicine bottles, DMV manuals, resumes, voter guides, notes from their child's teacher or in the newspaper - the every day items they just can't read.

It all depends on what it is that the student is trying to accomplish, said Shari Selnick, training coordinator for READ/Orange County, a program within the Orange County Public Library that teaches adults how to read.

"We are working toward their goals," Selnick said. "It's not through workbooks and not through grade levels. That's irrelevant."

READ/Orange County has been teaching adults how to read since 1991, Selnick said. "It was great that the library realized that this is a need," Selnick said. "How could patrons use the library sources if they can't read?"

On March 7, READ/Orange County will be holding an orientation at the Aliso Viejo Library, 1 Journey, for those interested in becoming tutors. The orientation is from 6 to 8 p.m. The orientation is free, but organizers are asking participants for a donation.

Selnick, who also teaches human communication at Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona, first became involved with READ/Orange County in 1997. She has been the training coordinator for the organization for about two and a half years.

"It's addictive," Selnick said. "Especially when you see you have made such a difference in people's lives."

For example, Selnick remembers a 55-year-old student who decided to learn how to read because he couldn't read street signs. He would get lost in the freeways and decided it was time to learn, Selnick said.

The organization currently has almost 500 students, plus a waiting list waiting to be paired with a tutor. "And we always have learners on the waiting list," Selnick said.

About one in four people have difficulty reading in Orange County, Selnick said.
Of course, that means that three out of four people can help, she said.

Those looking for helping in learning how to read are as diverse as the entire population of Orange County, said Bob West, outreach coordinator for READ/Orange County.

"The main thing I try to do is make the community aware what illiteracy is, and the number of people that are affected by this," West said. West also tries to correct some of the assumption people may have about illiteracy, like the assumption that most are born in other countries.

In fact, more than half of those who can't read were born here or are adults who have gone through a U.S. school system, West said. Some of them are successful business owners.

He credits that what he calls, the three D's: disabilities, differences and difficulties.

"The facts of life are that we are not wired the same," West said. "If you wanted me to fix the refrigerator, I could read the manual, and I could do it. Another person needs to be shown how to do it. Another person says, 'Tell me how to do it, but I have to do it.'"

That's why students go through a detailed analysis to measure their reading level. Tutors are also taught to be flexible in their teaching styles in order to be more effective, Selnick said.

"It's not a cookie cutter," she said. "That's why we have been very successful."
Tutors are required to go through 23 hours of training and are asked to make a commitment of 50 hours a year. Tutors need to be at least 18 years old and have a willingness to teach and be taught, she said.