Literacy Partners, Inc.
September 26, 2010
"A teacher affects eternity," Henry Adams once said. "He can never tell where his influence stops." When I joined Literacy Partners,Inc. in 2003 as a volunteer tutor, my goals by no means included eternity. I intended to spend a year helping students learn to decode words and to more easily negotiate the simple events that comprise our daily lives. Then I would move on to other matters.
What derailed this plan were the students and,of course, the students are the story. Amalie, presiding over a large brood of her own, learning to read so she can pass her citizenship test and qualify to adopt two needy young relatives from Haiti. James, a teenager and main support of his parents, hoping for a career in law enforcement. Andrea, living in a basement and working seven days a week in a store stocking shelves and seeking education as the path to a better job and financial security. Jorge, a mailroom worker in a bank, wanting to make his family proud. Over the years more than 100 students have sat around my table. Their dedication is humbling. You rarely see people so avid to learn. We're not just talking the 3 R's here, we're talking the 3 C's--Courage, Character, and Commitment.
Literacy Partners listens to students, takes them seriously. We respect their intelligence and we honor them with greatness: the poetry of Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Billy Collins; short stories by Anton Chekhov and Carson McCullers; plays by William Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder; novels by Ernest Hemingway and Sandra Cisneros.
But along with all that culture, side by side with the reading, the writing, and the math, a realistic results-based adult education program must also address the practical exigencies of life in the 21st century. While Amalie is mastering phonics,we help her prepare for that citizenship test. Besides practicing essay writing for his GED exam, James studies financial literacy and learns how to fill out forms and applications for the police academy. Andrea makes a resume, and applies for low-income housing. Jorge role-plays job interviews.
The power of education is its ability to open a window on the world. It is thrilling when a student achieves a goal on the road to a brighter future. At such a moment it is hard to imagine an enterprise in which one might be engaged that is more important. And,if there is an organization that is better able than Literacy Partners to provide the inspiration and the keys to unlock the mysteries of knowledge acquisition, I don't know it.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
seeing students meet--and sometimes exceed--their academic goals; grow in their sense of responsibility to community and family; and develop more confidence in their ability to help shape their own future.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
partner with museums,music and dance companies,and other cultural institutions that could give students access to exhibits, performances, and educational presentations.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
the interaction with students; we work hard, laugh a lot, exchange lessons of life experience, and while the lessons we learn are not always what we had anticipated, nobody leaves the table without having had a strenuous cerebral workout.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
engaged and engaging, smart, capable, and creative.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
buy a small building and consolidate all the centers in a permanent school with classrooms equipped with computers and other relevant technology.
Ways to make it better...
instead of the disruptive random entrances and exits of open enrollment,there were a more efficient system in which students would matriculate at logical times of the year: September, January, July (Summer Session).
In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...
developing new revenue streams so that staff and curriculum may be increased; creating a career literacy program in which students can hone job skills; attracting more young professional volunteers, especially those with technology expertise.
One thing I'd also say is that...
given a choice, many students would rather have root canal than write a 3-paragraph essay. But integrating reading and writing benefits the development of literacy. An intensive writing program should be developed at all levels, from ABE to GED.
How frequently have you been involved with the organization?
About every week
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Volunteer & I have taught literacy to students at several levels from ABE students who could not recite or write the alphabet to pre-GED students capable of analyzing classic short stories and creating brief, credible new endings for them.