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April 22, 2009 > Heroes of literacy

Heroes of literacy

By Meredith Eidem
Photos By Courtesy of Kristin Seitz

In just one year 400 people in Santa Clara county will be able to read this article with ease because they are a part of Vision Literacy, which has been created to assist people to improve their reading and writing abilities whether English is their first or second language.

Vision Literacy started in 1985 as a service to the city of Santa Clara as the Reading Program and has grown to serve all Santa Clara county libraries. It empowers adult learners to reach their goals and full potential with innovative literacy services.

Kristin Seitz, Associate Manager of Communications, in Milpitas says the programs "dispell (any notion that) low literacy people are not intelligent." Vision Literacy reaches English as a Second Language learners and many other people who are clearly motivated to learn and to reach specific goals at critical times in their lives such as looking for and getting a job or wanting to read with their children. This is a proactive way to acquire more than coping skills; but jump starts life-long learning as well.

"Some people are surprised to see that each has a unique story," stated Seitz. A Literacy Specialist pairs up each learner with a volunteer tutor who can best meet his needs.

The learner may need English as a Second Language guidance, may be someone who was not diagnosed with a learning disability when he was in school, or one who has reading abilities below the ninth grade level. The volunteer tutor has real-life experiences and the program's training session to offer and assist when he first becomes a part of this rewarding program.

Due to the specialized match-up, the tutor can design a program to best meet his learner's needs and to help him reach his specific goals.

In Silicon Valley there are three separate, independent literacy programs: Partners in Reading in the San Jose City area, Read Santa Clara for the city of Santa Clara, and Vision Literacy for the rest of the county all the way from Los Altos to Gilroy. This includes Campbell, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Saratoga, Los Altos, and Milpitas.

Catherine McBain is a Literacy Specialist in the Partners in Reading program located at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library in San Jose.

She said, "Each opens options and opportunities they otherwise would not have. All are free. There are no other places they can go unless they pay a lot of money. This is so important for a lot of people."

Seitz proclaimed, "Each learner is courageous to take the first step forward" and is able to do so and take many more steps because of the strong support team.

In the past a person needing reading skills who was looking for a job would most likely take the application home to have a family member help him fill it out. Now McDonald's has a laminated card on the wall that shows the website to go online to get the application. This means the learner must be able to read and write in English, and have access to a computer and basic computer skills.

The Milpitas and Gilroy libraries have just that: computers to use, one-on-one training and small group basic computer classes.

Another offering is the Prime Time Family Reading Program. This is a structured story time facilitated by trained program "scholars" or "story tellers." Everyone in the learner's family can get involved in a discussion time showing they are a loving part of his progress.

The Elmwood Corrections facility in Milpitas offers Math as well as English classes. This literacy program can also instill confidence in the learners.
Vision Literacy is a nationally recognized leader of community partnerships.

Funding comes from Mountain View and Santa Clara County Libraries, California State Library, California Department of Education, First Five grants, a United Way three-year grant, California Library Literacy Services (CLLS), the Department of Corrections, and other generous donors.

To become a part of the program, Learners need to be over the age of 16 and not enrolled in school, and have reading capabilities below the ninth grade level.

For those who are interested in becoming one of the volunteer tutors (115 gave their time and energies this year), the only requirements are to be over the age of eighteen, and to participate in the ten-hour training.

Volunteers do not have to be teachers, but this experience can also help teachers because teaching adults is different than teaching children.

This is another gratifying part of life-long learning for everyone who is involved.
"Our learners are definitely heroes. They are courageous to face the challenges of low literacy skills and move towards really becoming more functional," states Judy Klikun, Manager of Partners in Reading.

A total of 2,800 participants in all of the county services will have had great successes this year, being glad they had the bravery to take their first step.

For more information, contact (408) 808-2361 or www.partnersinreading.org, (408) 615-2956 or www.readsantaclara.org, and Vision Literacy Santa Clara County at www.visionliteracy.org or (408) 262-1349.

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