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Adult literacy the goal for Peter White Public Library program

November 23, 2011
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer (jstark@miningjournal.net.) , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - The ability to read is something that many adults probably never think about in their day-to-day lives. But take that ability away, and you find out how difficult going through life illiterate can.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 14 percent of of adult Americans have literacy levels low enough to prevent them from being able to read this article.

Peter White Public Library's new Adult Literacy program was designed to help combat this silent problem, which often goes uncovered because of the stigma attached to illiteracy.

Article Photos

The program is headed by Lisa Shirtz, who has been working at the library for five years and holds a Masters degree in education with a specialization in reading.

"Everyone who struggles to read probably has early deficits, early gaps in their reading... Perhaps they're just missing a few key phonics rules or (something else) that's preventing them from reading fluently," she said. "Functional literacy, that's what we're hoping for here."

Functional literacy is just what it sounds like: being able to read street signs, restaurant menus, instructions on a bottle of prescription pills.

PWLP's free literacy program pairs specially-trained tutors with community members who wish to increase their level of literacy.

After they complete the PWLP training program, tutors are given a literacy kit comprised of a small whiteboard with permanent lines to help students practice writing, a set of 1,000 blank flash cards, "You Can Teach People How To Read" by Lorraine Peoples and a tutoring handbook made by Shirtz herself. The handbook offers different ideas for class activities and helps the tutor design a class that best suits the student's needs.

Shirtz said she encourages the tutors to hold class in the library, but exceptions can be made for students without transportation. Each tutor/student pair must have at least two lessons a week, each lasting at least one hour.

"Older brains can't necessarily remember things from week to week," Shirtz said. "By (having lessons) twice a week, you can really make strides in their progress."

A self-expressed life-long reader, 57-year-old Marquette resident Fran Holland is one of the program's 10 tutors.

She first became interested in teaching adult literacy a few years ago, but was having a hard time locating a program to join. When she saw the new program in the PWLP newsletter, she decided to get involved.

"I love to read," Holland said. "I've always been a reader since I was a little kid and it makes me sad that some people have trouble with reading."

Once the volunteer tutors were trained and the program was launched, Holland said she was ready to start teaching, but there was only one student involved in the program.

So when Shirtz got a call from the NMU International Studies office, asking if her program would be interested in teaching English as a second language to adults, Shirtz ran the idea by her tutors, who agreed to try it out.

"It's wonderful that so many people are involved. Our original intent had been to direct our attention to people ... who had less than a sixth grade reading level," Shirtz said. "That is still our main focus, but right off the bat, we're given (this) invite from the NMU International Studies office."

The end result: Holland is tutoring an ESL student from South Korea. She said even though it's not what she had originally signed up for, she has no regrets about taking the student on.

"I have a son who is about this student's age, and I'd like to think if my son was in a foreign country, there would be someone there who would be willing to help him out," she said. "It's been a really good experience. It's been interesting for me to learn about another country, and the flip side is that it's been really fun sharing my country with someone."

Holland will get a chance to learn and share many things over the coming months, as each student who signs up for the program is required to complete at least six months of lessons with the same tutor.

For Holland, forming a bond that goes beyond just teacher and student has been one of the best parts of being in the program.

"It's like seeing everything all brand new," she said. "It's been a great experience."

Adults interested in the program are encouraged to visit PWPL. Classes are free and anyone 18 or older is eligible to participate. The names of students involved in the program will be kept confidential.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is MARQUETTE - The ability to read is something that many adults probably never think about in their day-to-day lives. But take that ability away, and you find out how difficult going through life illiterate can.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 14 percent of of adult Americans have literacy levels low enough to prevent them from being able to read this article.

Peter White Public Library's new Adult Literacy program was designed to help combat this silent problem, which often goes uncovered because of the stigma attached to illiteracy.

The program is headed by Lisa Shirtz, who has been working at the library for five years and holds a Masters degree in education with a specialization in reading.

"Everyone who struggles to read probably has early deficits, early gaps in their reading... Perhaps they're just missing a few key phonics rules or (something else) that's preventing them from reading fluently," she said. "Functional literacy, that's what we're hoping for here."

Functional literacy is just what it sounds like: being able to read street signs, restaurant menus, instructions on a bottle of prescription pills.

PWLP's free literacy program pairs specially-trained tutors with community members who wish to increase their level of literacy.

After they complete the PWLP training program, tutors are given a literacy kit comprised of a small whiteboard with permanent lines to help students practice writing, a set of 1,000 blank flash cards, "You Can Teach People How To Read" by Lorraine Peoples and a tutoring handbook made by Shirtz herself. The handbook offers different ideas for class activities and helps the tutor design a class that best suits the student's needs.

Shirtz said she encourages the tutors to hold class in the library, but exceptions can be made for students without transportation. Each tutor/student pair must have at least two lessons a week, each lasting at least one hour.

"Older brains can't necessarily remember things from week to week," Shirtz said. "By (having lessons) twice a week, you can really make strides in their progress."

A self-expressed life-long reader, 57-year-old Marquette resident Fran Holland is one of the program's 10 tutors.

She first became interested in teaching adult literacy a few years ago, but was having a hard time locating a program to join. When she saw the new program in the PWLP newsletter, she decided to get involved.

"I love to read," Holland said. "I've always been a reader since I was a little kid and it makes me sad that some people have trouble with reading."

Once the volunteer tutors were trained and the program was launched, Holland said she was ready to start teaching, but there was only one student involved in the program.

So when Shirtz got a call from the NMU International Studies office, asking if her program would be interested in teaching English as a second language to adults, Shirtz ran the idea by her tutors, who agreed to try it out.

"It's wonderful that so many people are involved. Our original intent had been to direct our attention to people ... who had less than a sixth grade reading level," Shirtz said. "That is still our main focus, but right off the bat, we're given (this) invite from the NMU International Studies office."

The end result: Holland is tutoring an ESL student from South Korea. She said even though it's not what she had originally signed up for, she has no regrets about taking the student on.

"I have a son who is about this student's age, and I'd like to think if my son was in a foreign country, there would be someone there who would be willing to help him out," she said. "It's been a really good experience. It's been interesting for me to learn about another country, and the flip side is that it's been really fun sharing my country with someone."

Holland will get a chance to learn and share many things over the coming months, as each student who signs up for the program is required to complete at least six months of lessons with the same tutor.

For Holland, forming a bond that goes beyond just teacher and student has been one of the best parts of being in the program.

"It's like seeing everything all brand new," she said. "It's been a great experience."

Adults interested in the program are encouraged to visit PWPL. Classes are free and anyone 18 or older is eligible to participate. The names of students involved in the program will be kept confidential.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.

 
 

 

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