STORY BY HANNAH KEISKER
Frank, 67, learned the alphabet a year ago at Drake University’s Adult Literacy Center.
“I figured if I ever got stopped for drinking, and they asked me to do the alphabet I would have to tell them, ‘Can’t do it,’” Frank said.
The Adult Literacy Center was created in 1976 and helps adults learn to read, write and understand language. Anne Murr has been the coordinator for the center for 16 years.
She said many students are pushed through the education system because schools don’t have the resources to help them, and they often grow up without the ability to read.
“For a child who’s a struggling reader, they need intensive one-to-one or small group instruction,” Murr said. “How many schools have the resources for that or the materials?”
Frank, who asked that his last name not be used, dropped out of school in fifth grade because he was pushed through the system. When he was 12-years-old, he dug ditches for a plumbing company for $25 a week.
He became a licensed plumber at 16 before he joined the military and fought in the Vietnam War. Frank had been going to literacy centers on and off for over 10 years, but each place made him uncomfortable.
“I guess over the last 50 years I wanted to read. Everybody that I went to to help me wasn’t really there for me. They disrespected me in ways that I didn’t like,” Frank said.
Frank’s tutor, Dick Gibson, is a retired reporter from the Wall Street Journal and the Des Moines Register.
He said he was looking for a place to volunteer after he retired and his friend, a former teacher, told him about the center. Gibson said Frank has made remarkable progress and he’s determined to learn.
Frank didn’t understand simple concepts because his brain is wired somewhat differently than other people, and the systems we use in schools don’t apply to him, he added.
Like the majority of the students at the center, he suffers from a language-based learning disability.
“He’s very bright, but he’s dyslexic and no one figured that out when he was in grade school or cared, so they didn’t know how to deal with him,” Gibson said.
Gibson and Frank were paired up last year after Gibson went through a 2-day weekend tutor training. They share the same birthday, and Gibson said they are very compatible. Frank said Gibson is easy to work with.
“He doesn’t make me feel like I’m embarrassed or I’m a dummy, and that’s how I felt over the years,” Frank said.
Students are usually paired with one tutor and meet with them weekly over the span of three years.
However, everyday life issues arise and sometimes the pairings don’t work. Tricia Atterberg is the administrative assistant for the arts and sciences office at Drake.
She wanted to volunteer in literacy and trained at the Literacy Center after she saw an ad on Blueview. She went through training in October, but hasn’t had the best luck keeping students.
Atterberg never met her first student, a young man who had trouble getting to the center because he would miss the bus or didn’t have enough money.
Students provide goals they wish to accomplish at the center. One of Atterberg’s students worked in child-care at the YMCA.
Her goal was to be able to read children’s books to the kids.
“The goals that they have for themselves seem so reachable when they come in, and it’s sad. Something that I’ve taken for granted,” Atterberg said.
There are 83 students and 75 tutors at the Literacy Center now.
“Drake students learn about diversity of a totally different kind. This is diversity of learning opportunity,” Murr said. Murr said the first thing students gain before they acquire reading skills is confidence.
Frank said his life has changed 100 percent after joining the Literacy Center.
“It’s enjoyment now instead of feeling beaten up,” he added. I always said to myself, ‘Boy, can you imagine me with an education, what I’d be?’” Frank said. “But I’m happy where I’m at, I really am. I made it my way.”