BY HOI MUN LEE
According to the United States Department of Education, humans generally achieve various language milestones from ages zero to six, including the ability to read.
However, not everybody is fortunate enough to enjoy childhood education. The same department also reported in 2013 that 32 million adults in the U.S. are illiterate.
Fortunately, Drake University, along with many other institutions, has set up adult literacy programs to try and lower this number.
Anne Murr, coordinator of the Drake Adult Literacy Center, estimated a total number of 115 students enrolled in the program, this school year, which started last July, with others on the waiting list.
She said volunteer training is required because teaching adults to read is very different compared to teaching children to read.
“We teach sounds and how the sounds go together in a multisensory fashion,” Murr said. “Adults who can’t read have brains that are wired very differently.”
Founded in 1976 as a part of the Drake School of Education, the Drake Adult Literacy Center is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is currently seeking volunteer tutors to meet the high intake of students.
With volunteers filling the roles as tutors, students only need to pay a maximum of $50 as enrollment fee per year with scholarships also available.
These volunteers mainly consist of people from the community. Murr wished more Drake students would participate in the program but felt the year-long commitment has put off a lot of prospective student volunteers.
One student volunteer is Sally Diehl from the College of Arts and Sciences, who started in Spring 2015. Diehl tutored English language learners, and found it a rewarding experience.
“It was really great to see the little steps she would make,” said Diehl, regarding a Somalian student looking for a better job. “Even getting down a vowel is really hard, so once they do that it’s just really nice to see.”
Despite the year-long commitment and required dedication, Diehl looks to continue her work in the Adult Literacy Center after taking a break next year when she studies abroad.
Other than dedication, Murr seeks volunteers who are willing to learn about the structure they use to teach students and patient teachers with an openness to diversity in terms of socioeconomic and sociological backgrounds.
Murr did say, though, that adult learners cannot expect to have their lives changed completely through completing a year’s course.
“It takes a child three to five years to learn to read, and those children are in school every day. An adult reads one and a half hours a week,” she said. “If they didn’t learn to read during that windowed opportunity just from birth to age 10, you can’t expect an adult to read in less than five years.”
However, she said students do learn skills to become more functional, like being able to read signs, fill out forms and buy a card for loved ones.
“Things we usually take for granted, they’ll be able to do it more independently,” Murr said.
Marcia Keyser, reference librarian and information literacy instructor at Cowles Library, thinks reading is essential for most jobs in this modern era. As an example, she cited a man who knew how to read blueprints, but not words, who eventually learned to readso he could keep his job.
Keyser also said while the Internet has provided a lot of pictures and picture links, illiterate people would still have to rely on other people to get the information they need as opposed to just reading articles, books or newspapers.
While Cowles Library is set up mainly for students and faculty, Keyser had worked for an adult literacy program started by a public library. She said that programs like these are not only for adults who received low education but also highly educated foreigners who do not speak English.
“I taught this woman who had a law degree from Venezuela who could not speak a word of English,” Keyser said.
Adult literacy is not just about learning how to read as an adult. To many, it is a way to connect with loved ones and society. For others, it is a chance to provide for their families and further their careers.
The Drake University Adult Literacy Center aims to help illiterate elderlies reconnect with the world and refugee mothers provide better lives for their children among others who just want to learn to read in English.
Anybody can register to be a tutor with training sessions set to be held April 22 and April 23.
Anyone looking to volunteer with the adult literacy program can contact Murr at firstname.lastname@example.org.