The Washington Times-Herald

April 5, 2013

Reading is fundamental

Lindsay Owens
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — When most people hear the word 'literacy,' they automatically think of reading but literacy is much more.

The non-profit group ProLiteracy defines literacy as "the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member." Unfortunately, an estimated 2,100 of about 21,000 adults in Daviess County read below a fourth grade reading level according to a national and state literacy survey and local census data. With an illiteracy rate of 10 percent, Daviess County ranks ninth highest in the state.

"When 10 percent of a county's population can't read at a functional level, it's a common problem.  It is a community problem.  Solving that problem is our goal.  The best way to make Washington and Daviess County a better place to live is by helping more adults now and by preventing adult illiteracy in the future," explained Teresa Heidenreich, director of the Washington Carnegie Library.

ProLiteracy, which the Washington library is a member of, also reports that in the United States 14 percent of people over the age of 16 do not have the reading and comprehension skills required to fill out a job application.

In an effort to help local residents strengthen literacy skills, the Washington library has started an adult literacy program that provides free one-on-one tutoring to Daviess County residents. Those enrolled with the program will be matched with a volunteer tutor. All tutors are trained to teach basic reading and writing skills during a two hour workshop. Each tutor will individually assess the needs of the student he or she is matched with.  The tutoring sessions will typically be held in the library meeting room or other approved sites rather than in a classroom.

"This service is needed in this area," said workshop presenter and Greene County Literacy Coordinator Beth Burcham. It's hard to get an exact number of how many people are really in need because they are embarrassed.

Potential literacy students must meet certain requirements before being matched with a tutor. Students must be able to speak and understand English, be at least 16 years old and no longer enrolled in a school system, be able to attend to a task for the entire intake interview, be willing to commit at least 90 minutes per week to instructional time and extra study time, be able to get to the tutoring site, and demonstrate the desire to learn.

There are tutors already trained and ready for those wanting to enroll in the program. The first workshop for tutors was held in two sessions on April 2, but Heidenreich said there is and will continue to be a need for more volunteers. Another workshop for tutors will be held sometime in May. "Adult learning and literacy is important because low literacy affects individuals, families and society in a variety of adverse ways. It impacts health, crime rates, employment and future generations," said Heidenreich.  Eventually, Heidenreich said she would like to see the program extend into the jails as well.

Potential tutors must also meet certain criteria. Tutors must be at least 16 years old and have the consent of a high school guidance counselor or have a high school diploma or equivalent. They must also speak and communicate in understandable English and commit at least 90 minutes each week plus preparation time to the tutoring program.  The program is funded with support from the Friends of the Library, Rotary Club of Washington, German American Bank, and the United Way. For more information about the program, contact the Washington Carnegie Library at 812-254-4586 or literacy@washingtonpubliclibrary.org.