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Relationships can improve literacy and improve lives

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Volunteer tutoring. It is something I set out to do in 1986. I didn't follow through.

I was an undergraduate in secondary education, with a concentration in English. To think that all these years I not only could have been teaching English, but I also could have been helping my high school students overcome some basic areas they had difficulties with, such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, even phonics.

I remember the first training session. It was lengthy; there was a lot of information and free food. Still, I left early.

It took years for me to realize just how important basic literacy is.

First I had to examine and identify my reasons for leaving the training early. Most of all, I just wasn't ready -- maybe to make a year's commitment to volunteering -- maybe I was scared to try to relate to a student who had more years to his or her credit than myself. It was a major shift in paradigm to think that a "student" could be older than my 19-year-old self. I continued with my university studies in secondary education and entered into full-time employment.

I spent about 15 years trying to teach high school students. As much as I loved teaching teenagers, I was disturbed by the fact that 16-year-olds were dropping out, attendance kept students from passing when they could be excelling, and tragedies occurred among the students and more than disrupted their lives.

What I didn't stay for the first day of volunteer tutor training, I discovered through experience, and rediscovered during volunteer tutor training session.

It is about the relationship between the tutor/teacher and the student, according to Dr. James Comer, psychiatrist and professor who has many additional credits to his name. "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship," he has said.

Lately, I have been blessed to know get to know almost all the students at Tri-State Literacy Council.

They are all amazing. Two have given permission to include their stories:

One student is studying math, and he wants to pass the GED. He is working on his least favorite subject first.

He is persistent.

Another student has been with TSLC for a few years. She's had so many challenges and tragedies in her life, and she keeps on, not only facing life and issue after issue, but pursuing her education at the same time.

She is persistent also, but she is an inspiration as well.

Strangely enough, there is a push in primary and secondary education for achieving literacy through all grades, and all subjects (Adolescent Literacy: A Policy Research Brief produced by the National Council of the Teachers of English). Some of the questions I've asked myself over the years include, are English-Language Arts teachers, especially high school teachers, teaching how to read, as well as giving instruction in literature and writing?

The answers, I believe, lay in the individuality of the student. Every adult Tri-State Literacy Council works with has a story. Each one has a reason for wanting to learn or improve his reading, writing or math. I've been blessed with the opportunity and desire to tutor adults one-on-one in a volunteer setting.

In improving the literacy of adults, it takes not only the support of staff, tutors, family and friends, but also the student's desire to overcome the barriers in their lives to help each achieve his goals. In high school, that goal might be a diploma, or in the options pathway, the GED. In adult life, however, sometimes the goal could be similar -- achieving the GED. Some adult's goals may aim to read the next higher level book before setting another goal, or just even to make it to the next tutoring session.

I'm so proud of all of our Tri-State Literacy Council tutors and students. We have many tutors and students who have been with us through many years, building long-standing tutoring partnerships.

They work together, they celebrate together, some of them even cry together. Volunteers listen, they tutor, they encourage.

They have built relationships, and it is working.

Carrie Edgell is an administrative assistant for Tri-State Literacy Council in the Cabell County Public Library. To contact Tri-State Literacy Council for more information on becoming a volunteer tutor or a student, call the Cabell County Public Library at 304-528-5700, and ask for Literacy, or stop by our new location in the Learning Center on the third floor of the CCPL.

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