Volunteer tutors recognized

Published 11:19 pm Friday, October 8, 2010

Literacy tutors in Suffolk have an impact on their charges that goes far beyond just helping them to read.

That’s the message about 15 Suffolk Literacy Council tutors heard during a tutor appreciation luncheon Tuesday at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology.

“You’re saving lives when you teach people to read,” said guest speaker Ann Kirk, stepdaughter of one of the creators of the Laubach method of teaching reading, which is used by Suffolk Literacy Council volunteers.

Speaker: Ann Kirk speaks to Suffolk Literacy Council volunteers this week.

Kirk shared family photos of her stepmother, Elizabeth “Betty” Mooney Kirk, who created the reading system with Dr. Frank Laubach. With their families, the two traveled the world teaching people to read in their native languages. Through their efforts, the “Each One Teach One” program was developed. It is estimated the program has taught about 60 million people to read in their native language.

Several hundred of those people have been right here in Suffolk, said Ann March, president of the Suffolk Literacy Council board of directors.

“The illiteracy problem is not going away,” March said, adding that about 1 in 5 adults in Suffolk cannot read. “There are a lot of people in our community who are functionally illiterate. They can read well enough to go about their daily lives, but they can’t read well enough to get a promotion at their job or even to get a job.”

About 15 tutors currently instruct about 20 adult students, March said. Some students are trying to get their General Equivalency Diploma or a commercial driver’s license. Others want to do better at their jobs. Still others simply want to be able to write a check and read their Sunday school lessons.

“There are a lot of reasons people need our help,” March said. Tutors in the program also help teach English as a second language.

“There’s a lot of need out there,” she added, encouraging anybody who wants to be a volunteer tutor to sign up. “This is a very simple program. If you can read, you can tutor.”

The Laubach program uses a chart method developed by Kirk and Laubach, as well as phonetics and other devices, to help instruct reading students. Ann Kirk explained at Tuesday’s luncheon how her stepmother and Laubach developed the system, using family photos as illustrations.

For some time while living in Harlem, the two friends and teaching partners had a group of students who attended classes nightly. Laubach and Kirk spent each day developing that evening’s lesson, with each lesson building upon the one before it. Eventually, the lessons grew into a four-level set of books that is still used today. The first major revisions to the series recently have been completed, and the new books became available two weeks ago.

Kirk shared personal stories about how the effects of learning how to read can be felt through generations of families.

“You don’t know what the impact of being able to read will be on them and their children and their grandchildren,” she said. “There are ripples still moving in the waters of today with effects far beyond what anybody has anticipated.”