Literacy in Alabama
9:50 am
Wed September 3, 2008

Reading the Signs to Success - part 1

Tuscaloosa AL – High rates of adult illiteracy are hurting Alabama, both economically and socially. This week, APR News explores how reading shapes a community in a 4-part series. First, the basics why does reading matter? Alabama Public Radio's Brett Tannehill reports

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Educators and civic leaders from across the state are trying to rally the forces and tackle a devastating problem adult illiteracy.

WUSKA- We truly believe that illiteracy is the root of so many of our social problems "

Jackie Wuska is president of the Literacy Council of central Alabama, which hopes to help create a new Council to coordinate adult education services in west Alabama.

WUSKA- homelessness, poverty, unemployment, crime even domestic violence. Numerous health issues are affected by a person not being able to read.

RAY- I think everyone of us come in contact with it ...

That's state school board member Sandra Ray, also a member of Rotary International of Tuscaloosa, a service group pushing to creating the Literacy Council of West Alabama. She says the Council would meet a need that's hard to see ...

RAY - So it started out as a seed as us just saying we wanted to educate our members and then kind of educate the public about the problem and what the resources were available. And we found that there's not a lot of knowledge out there about either one of them.

Ray says it's critical to raise awareness about adult illiteracy and coordinating adult education resources. There is a lot at stake - both socially and economically.
Statewide 25-percent of Alabamians can't read, that's about 5-points worse than the national average. In Tuscaloosa County, one in four people can't read. In Greene County, more than half the residents are considered functionally illiterate, meaning they lack the ability to read street signs or instructions on a medicine bottle. It's a trend across the Black Belt and it hurts the region's capacity to attract quality jobs. It also hurts children who fall behind early in school and may not be getting properly administered medication. Children who grow up in non-reading households are 50-percent more likely to be illiterate themselves ... and suffer a lifetime of difficulties because of it. Again, Jackie Wuska

WUSKA - It shows you when the illiteracy rate is that low, it destroys a community. So Tuscaloosa and West Alabama is really recognizing these are issues that have to change. We don't want this to spread any further."

The challenges are monumental, but not unique to Alabama. Education consultant Dr. Ray Hart works with other communities across the nation that are trying to improve adult education. He says in one district he works with, people are standing together and finding answers.

Hart - "What it's really done as a result is impact the community. It's the beginnings of the impact in the community, but it changes the outlook, it changes the people in the community and their outlook for jobs. And it changes the ability of the city to recruit new jobs."

As we'll hear this week, those changes don't come easy. First of all, how do you find people to help? I mean, who wants to admit they can't read? How about 60-year-old truck driver Louie Singleton ...

SINGLETON - "You just don't know until you've been there; you just don't know how hard it is. Some people, you can't let them know you can't read because they'll just kick you down."

We'll meet Louie Singleton and hear how a person who can't read raised four sons and became the president of his local worker's union. That's tomorrow morning, as "Reading the Signs to Success" continues.

For APR News, I'm Brett Tannehill

If you know someone who needs help learning to read, the Alabama Literacy Hotline is 888-448-7323.

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