Stamping out illiteracy in Suffolk

Published 10:11 pm Friday, October 27, 2017

It’s no secret that illiteracy continues to be a problem in the United States. Adult illiteracy costs the U.S. economy an estimated $240 million a year, according to the Read “Write” Adult Literacy Program.

But the real costs are far more personal.

The Write Express Corp. estimates that two thirds of students who cannot read well by the end of fourth grade will wind up in the penal system or on welfare and that a staggering 25 percent of American children will not learn to read by the time they are adults.

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With those statistics as a backdrop for the proceedings, the Suffolk Literacy Council celebrated its 30th anniversary on Tuesday. The organization was formed to help functionally illiterate adults in the area learn to read, and its clients have seen their lives changed by what they’ve learned.

Lenard Williams, 55, described for those attending the celebration at the Planters Club how he had grown up ashamed of his inability to keep up with schoolwork — and how his teachers failed to give him the help he needed at the time. He was unable to understand letters he received or to read the menus for the restaurants where he worked as a chef.

In two years of working with tutors from Suffolk Literacy Council, though, things have changed for Williams. He has become more confident and is on course to complete the program. And now, he said, “I’m not ashamed anymore.”

More than 50 SLC volunteer tutors spend at least one hour per week in one-on-one reading and writing lessons with 92 active, adult students, tutor coordinator Jessica Reitz said. These tutors work to build trust with their students by understanding them as individuals.

“They bring a very intense passion,” Reitz said about her tutors. She said they want to make a difference through relationships and “real knowledge” so the students understand and sustain what they’ve learned in tutoring.

The training has reached beyond the printed word, as the council has begun to incorporate math lessons into its curriculum. Today, 14 tutors focus primarily on math, giving their students a strong foundation in basic mathematical concepts.

Congratulations to all the Suffolk Literacy Council students who have improved their lives by taking advantage of this program, and thanks to the many volunteers who have worked so hard to make those improvements possible.