approaching literacy

by katherine stevens
It’s something we often take for granted. The ability to pick up a magazine and skim through it, to understand road signs, to enjoy a letter or an email from a friend or to fill out a job application. To a lot of us it comes as second nature. To breathe, to eat, to read. Easy as that. But to others, who suffer from illiteracy, it can be a daily challenge.
A 2003 study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy said that approximately 128,000 adults in Duval County read at the most basic literacy level. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Jacksonville is on top of it. There are many free programs and resources available to help curb illiteracy, which improves the quality of life for our citizens.
The Jacksonville Public Library is probably the first place you would think of. Their Center for Adult Learning (CAL) has provided uninterrupted literacy services since 1985. They offer classes in basic reading, writing, math and English language instruction for adults functioning between the third and sixth grade level. CAL’s role is to help adults with limited literacy reach their goals.
“Usually this means increasing an adult’s reading skills until they qualify for classes at the community college,” says Karen Wishart, the Literacy Program Supervisor for CAL. “In other cases it means helping someone improve their conversational English skills so they have greater employment options. At all times we try to focus on the learner’s goal, whatever that may be.”
But success takes patience and perseverance.
“The most challenging aspect at the center is to help students understand that becoming literate takes time,” says Wishart. “When an adult learner has gotten that job they wanted because their reading or math skills have improved…then you know you are doing what you need to do.”
Another revered program on the First Coast would be Learn to Read (LTR) Jacksonville. LTR is a non-profit organization that has been changing the quality of lives since 1969. What started out as one classroom in a small house has turned into a growing entity, with several classrooms, a computer lab and bookshelves galore. What’s special about LTR is its dedication to adult education.
“When people hear about Learn to Read they think of children,” says Larissa Buchholz, the Program Coordinator at LTR. “But we want to promote adult literacy, to try to help the family as a whole through the adults, the mothers and fathers.”
LTR offers multiple classes a week, including one-to-one tutoring, ESL classes and basic reading classes. They provide services for adults starting at the age of 16 and beyond. Each year they teach around 500 students and their numbers are increasing. As of right now they have 60 people on a waiting list for tutoring.
One of their students, David Ortiz, has been coming to LTR for two years now. He takes two classes a week and works as the activities coordinator at Harley Davidson.
Says Ortiz, “I’ve picked up a lot…I have a little more to go, but what I got I use to help myself accomplish my goals.”
And accomplishing goals is really what these programs are about; one of their main aims being to increase literacy awareness throughout Duval County.
Because of high demand both the Center for Adult Learning and Learn to Read are continually in need of helpful teachers and volunteer tutors (summertime’s the perfect time to lend a hand!).
Classes take place year-round and are free and open to anyone in the community.
“It is always the right time to learn what you might have missed before,” says Wishart. “We are here for you and our job is to help you succeed. I have a student who at 73 years old is learning to read. She says that if she can do it then anyone can.”

for more information on classes or volunteering:
Center for Adult Learning: (904) 631-2426
Learn to Read: