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April 16, 2014

TURNING A NEW PAGE: Jeffersonville adult literacy program looks to boost opportunities

Literacy Is For Everyone is a free program for illiterate adults

JEFFERSONVILLE — A Jeffersonville group is helping people learn a basic skill that most take for granted every day, even at this very moment — reading.

Don Walker and others at Faith Lutheran Church founded LIFE, or Literacy Is For Everyone, a free program for illiterate adults who are looking to get their high school equivalency degrees or just wanting to function better in society.

Walker, director of the program, said he was shocked to learn of the number of adults in Clark and surrounding counties who don’t have a high school diploma. Many of whom can’t read and haven’t had a place to learn. He said that LIFE is the first adult literacy program in Jeffersonville.

“There’s been no where to turn,” he said. “Part of the problem is the fact that these people are often underemployed or unemployed, so they don’t have a whole lot of money.”

The church opened its doors April 15 and will operate every Tuesday and Wednesday from 1-5 p.m. The program is staffed by a dozen volunteers who were trained by state coordinators. Another 12 hour training for any new coaches will happen some time in June, Walker said.

He said that one of the biggest misconceptions about illiterate people is that they’re unintelligent.

“A lot of these people ... they’re very smart. They dropped out of school for various reasons, whether it’s economic or financial, maybe there are medical issues in their family,” he said. “Who knows what it is that prevented them from continuing their education.

“So they’re crafty.”

Ways that illiterate adults get by include asking a server what the daily specials are at a restaurant instead of reading the menu, or claiming they don’t have their glasses on them when asked to read.

“There’s all sorts of ways that these people can adapt,” Walker said. “They hide it very well.”

However, these tricks aren’t always enough.

“These people are underemployed and they have talents that they’re not able to exercise because they’re not able to get good jobs because they can’t read,” Walker said.

Beyond the workplace, Walker said illiteracy touches almost every aspect of life.

“It’s a quality of life issue for these people,” he said. “They’re also not able to read to their children, they’re not able to help their children with their homework. They’re pretty much unable to cope with a lot of the things that happen in life.”

LIFE will receive students as referrals from Jeffersonville High School and the Jeffersonville Township Public Library. When someone comes to either the school or library to get their high school equivalencies but cannot pass because they’re illiterate, they are then recommended to LIFE. Students will take an assessment and coaches will give them lessons based on their skill level.

“There’s a very wide range. There is not a typical individual,” he said. “It’s all over the map. It’s everything from people who can’t function at all to people who are functioning but not very well to people who are almost functional but not quite.”

Lessons are based on topics adults are interested in, such as finance, politics and even beer.

“It is not childlike at all,” he said.

Students continue their sessions until they reach a fifth grade reading level.

Jeffersonville falls under Region 10 of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, a region that also includes Floyd, Harrison, Scott, Washington and Crawford counties. LIFE, through Faith Lutheran Church, joined Region 10’s consortium as a partner to adult education programs, Walker said.

Angela Kirlin, project manager for Adult Education programs under the Scott County Economic Development Corp., wrote that programs like LIFE are essential to ensure adults have the resources to reach their desired level of education.

“Literacy programs benefit the entire community,” Kirlin said. “Residents who are able to read are more likely to obtain gainful employment and avoid drugs, violence and poverty.”

Faith Lutheran’s Pastor Scott Meier is one of 12 coaches for the program.

“I think that literacy is important and we have an awful lot of people who are trying to find work in a tough economy,” he said. “And I’d like to give them as much advantage as we possibly can.”

He said students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the services — more literate adults also helps the tax base.

“I just hope that we can have some success stories, and hopefully some of the ones who have been students would like to get involved with teaching and keep the program alive,” he said.

Walker said that the results are going to be intangible.

“It’s going to be really significant, and we’re not even going to be able to tell ...” he said. “But if you teach someone to read, and all of the sudden they can go home and they can help their child with homework or they can read a story to their grandchild or they can go to Olive Garden and read the menu ... it goes across the board.”

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Erin Klein, a nationally-recognized education blogger and Tom Murray, State and District Digital Learning Policy and Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C., speak to a group of educators at Jeffersonville High School on Monday. They were just a couple of the big-name education personalities at the second annual Greater Clark Connected Conference.

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