It’s never too late to learn

Families across the United States are preparing to send their children back to school with new book bags and school supplies. Back to school is also a time for some of the 30 million American adults who cannot read beyond a third-grade level to consider taking steps to overcome their literacy challenges.

Many of these adults find ways to hide this fact from their co-workers and friends – even their own families. Common avoidance techniques include finding an excuse to steer clear of reading aloud, hiding their writing from others or committing everything to memory to avoid jotting things down.

As children and teens go back to school, this is the perfect time for adults in need of educational services to take this important step to improve their own literacy skills. Being illiterate is not a joke and can be difficult to recognize and admit. Our organization helps adults address their literacy challenges. Trained tutors work one on one with adults who need help with basic reading, English-as-a-second-language and math skills. We also provide literacy programs in local correctional facilities – Moriah Shock, Adirondack in Ray Brook, Bare Hill in Malone – and we recently partnered with Franklin County Jail as well.

Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties is an affiliate of Literacy New York, one of the state’s largest nonprofit organizations dedicated to advancing the cause of adult literacy and basic education. Our mission is to enable people over the age of 16 to achieve personal goals through student-centered literacy tutoring. This past year we supported more than 140 adult learners and trained more than 40 volunteer tutors. Sixty-seven percent of our students showed academic improvement by at least one grade level.

With the new GED(c) exam, we also anticipate a rush of adult learners who would like to receive their High School Equivalency Diploma before the end of the year. There’s not much time left, and there are only two testing dates available for adults in our region. The new GED(c) will be more rigorous, computer-based, and access will be limited. Thankfully, the New York State Education Department will offer an alternative high school equivalent exam called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, which should be ready to roll out in early 2014. It, too, will be more rigorous but more accessible and still available in a paper-and-pencil format.

In order to support these adult learners, Literacy Volunteers relies heavily upon dedicated volunteer tutors who provide one-on-one or small-group instruction to native and non-native English speakers. Volunteer tutors are patient, compassionate, flexible and willing to give at least two hours a week to each adult learner. Tutors are expected to attend the tutor training prior to being matched with students. Literacy Volunteers will have three tutor trainings across its two-county service region. At the main office in Port Henry, an orientation will be held on Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. There will be an orientation in Malone on Oct. 7 at 6 p.m., and in the Tri-Lakes region, the orientation will be held on Oct. 15 at 5 p.m.

For more information, please contact your local Literacy Volunteers office at the following phone numbers: Port Henry – 518-546-3008, Tri-Lakes – 518-891-5567, and Malone – 518-483-9366. If you know anyone who could benefit from our services, then suggest they call their local Literacy Volunteers office.

Maria Burke is director of Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties, based in Port Henry.