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Non-traditional ways of learning help local adults

Volunteers are needed at Drake University’s Adult Literacy Center. The center helps teach adults how to read, write and even speak. Many of the adults who seek help at the center cannot learn in a traditional manner.

According to the Adult Literacy Center home page, volunteers tutor during two one-hour sessions with one student each week. Tutors can work Mondays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Anne Murr, the coordinator of the Adult Literacy Center, said that tutors need to be “people who enjoy the world of words, playing word games (and) going on tangents to help people understand and use our language.”

All tutors take a seven-hour training course where they learn multiple methods for structured teaching focused on reading and spelling. This course includes an introduction to why people fail to learn how to read, how to structure lessons and how to develop different methods of teaching, including using magnetic boards and finger tapping.

Finger tapping is a method of breaking up words into separate sounds. This is helpful because the main reason people fail to learn how to read is because they can’t associate letters with sounds.

Murr said the program began in 1976 with a federal grant for Des Moines Area Community College and Drake. The grant paid students to take a class on adult literacy and then participants would have the opportunity to teach adults how to read. After the grant expired, community volunteers joined students and kept the program running.

According to its mission statement, the Adult Literacy Center has helped people pass their driving tests, read to their grandchildren, help their children with elementary school homework and read their medicine instructions.

Murr described the program as “tremendously rewarding.”

“I tell new volunteers they’re making a definite impact in a person’s life,” Murr said. “This is more satisfying than reading with children. The adults are very motivated because they want to improve their lives. As you see people gain confidence in themselves and become passionate about learning, how exciting is that?”

According to the Adult Literacy Center’s website, adults involved in this program were enrolled in school until at least 10th grade, but their reading skills are more at the pre-reading level to fourth grade. The center helps over 100 adults each year. There are currently 70 students being tutored while many others are on a waiting list.

The majority of adults involved in the program finish after two years. Other students are learning English

Adult Literacy Center student Jerry Schilling said that his life has improved “quite a bit.”

“I’ve come a long way,” Schilling said.

To get involved, contact Murr, or fill out the application on the Adult Literacy Center website.


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