Reading is Easy! Or is it?

RSVP volunteer Michael Micallef tutoring adult learners at the YWCA Tri-County Adult Literacy Center. Image provided by RSVP.

Content submitted by RSVP

The literacy skills of one in seven adults 16 or older are so poor they are unable to understand the instructions on a medication bottle or fill out a simple job application or even read through this article.

Can you imagine how awful it would be if these simple words were unrecognizable – that is, they didn’t make sense? That’s what 8% of the population in Montgomery County deals with every day of their lives. They are classified by the National Center for Educational Statistics as lacking basic literacy skills.

It’s hard for most of us to really measure the impact that reading and comprehension has on our daily lives. From simple instructions like having the ability to quickly recognize and respond to a STOP sign, to more complex instructions like filling out a tax return (which can make anyone’s head spin,) words surround us with information, warnings and instructions every day and in every aspect of our lives.

The most incredible thing is that illiteracy can be reversed – it doesn’t have to be a permanent state of functioning. And there are plenty of amazing volunteers who are taking on the challenge, one student at a time.

When Michael, a volunteer from Limerick, retired several years ago he decided after a brief part-time job that he wanted to do something that would really benefit someone else. He spent his career providing training to entry level employees and felt he already had some of the skills he’d need to work with adults and become a literacy tutor.

Michael found RSVP of Montgomery County, a volunteer placement agency that has been serving the county for 40 years. For decades, RSVP has run several literacy programs and has amassed the training and access to programs that volunteers are looking for. Their Adult Literacy program is one of several Volunteer Impact Programs offered to volunteers who are interested in having a more direct impact on the vulnerable populations within the county.

“Because of my business background I felt that I would be suited to working with adults,” reports Michael. “I understood that there was much to be learned about tutoring adults. I was assigned to the YWCA Tri-County Adult Literacy Center in Pottstown, located in my own community. They provided a wide array of materials as well as professional development seminars for tutors such as ‘Obstacles to Reading for Adult Learners’. I also attended the PA Adult Continuing Education Conference in March. There were eight sessions I attended which provided me with ideas and methods for successful tutoring mostly related to the use of technology in teaching and strategies in reading instruction. I immediately began applying these strategies in my classes.”

Michael goes on “Most of my current students are preparing to take their GED exams. One student plans to continue his education at a community college or attend a trade school once he passes his exam. Another student wants to pass the GED for employment purposes and two other students I tutor primarily want to be able to help their children with their schoolwork. It’s incredibly gratifying when a student grasps a new concept and I know my efforts have been successful.”

Jae Hively, Director of the Pottstown YWCA Tri-County Adult Learning Center works with more than 300 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 65. The center offers programs in GED preparation, adult basic education, English language/civics, basic job skills and basic computer skills. The center works with several RSVP volunteers who are assigned based on their interests and where the center’s needs are and are assigned in any of several locations in the area. Hively states “Appropriate learning materials are selected based on the goal and level of the learner. Volunteer tutors and adult learners meet twice weekly for 1.5 hours and small learning groups meet to improve reading writing, math, computer, workplace and English language skills two to three hours twice weekly.”

“I want the community to know that the standard GED test will be changing in January 2014. The new test will be taken using the computer, rather than paper. Tests completed using the current system will no longer be valid, so if one or more of the five parts of the GED test were taken and passed, but not all parts were passed, the passed parts (tests) in the current version will not be carried over, students will have to begin the testing process again. This is the time to prepare for and take the current GED exam and pass any remaining parts of the current test already started. Anyone interested in finalizing their GED testing can contact the center at (610) 326-7323.

Statistics show that literacy improves every aspect of our lives. Employment opportunities increase, an educated population can reduce crime and poverty and can even reduce healthcare costs not to mention the fundamental benefits of being able to read and function on a higher level.

To learn more about RSVP’s Adult Literacy program or other Volunteer Impact Programs, contact Dollie Walsh at (610) 326-9109 or (610) 834-1040, ext. 42 or email rsvpwestern@rsvpmc.org. Visit www.rsvpmc.org for additional information.