Good News – Bringing outsiders in through literacy

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Good News - Bringing outsiders in through literacy

By Rita Mailheau

“Imagine a world where you are an outsider. Your child has homework but you cannot understand the assignment. You have to check a bus schedule but you cannot make out the names. Or you’ve just been to the doctor but the instructions on a prescription bottle make no sense, and once again, you have to get help. If you’re lucky, you have a friend, who won’t embarrass you, and will read the information to you. Still, imagine the frustration and helplessness of always needing to rely on someone else to decipher even the smallest things. I can. I have worked with someone who could barely read, and it was not fun—for her.


“Despite the experience with my friend, the idea for this article came solely from me. It arises from the recognition that I am richer for the things I have read. I have traveled the globe from the safety of my armchair. I have ventured back to the dawn of time, and looked into men’s souls—because I can read. My life is so full. The scarcity that others experience because they cannot read is too painful to consider.

“Since I could think of nowhere else to start, I googled “Literacy” in San Diego. Since I love our library system so much, I found a program connected to the library called When I called to inquire, I was connected to Valerie Hardie, the Literacy Program Administrator. The following is a little about her background, and what she and the READ/SD volunteers are doing to help adults and families improve their reading:

“Of those volunteers—250 are tutors. The remaining 100 support READ/SD in the office, speaking engagements, special events, hosting book clubs, putting together mailings, reading stories to families, and doing assessments for new learners. There so many ways for people to contribute. Some people are making a difference just shelving books or answering phones.

I asked Val how the READ/SD attracts —obviously most aren’t going to read about it somewhere. She said the single most contributing factor in recruiting new learners is simply word of mouth. People who have success tell others.

“Volunteers usually find out about READ/SD through print media: online announcements, flyers in coffee shops, and articles appearing in publications.

Here’s how READ/SD works:

are equipped for success. They receive 15 hours of training, including an overview of the program, an introduction to tutoring and lesson planning, and a testimonial from a recently graduated Tutors also receive specialized instruction on helping people with learning disabilities. They employ multi-sensory techniques, phonics, and reading comprehension strategies.

attend an orientation. They learn about the program, the expectations, and get an opportunity to express their own goals. The literacy team also schedules a one-on-one assessment to determine their specific needs, goals and interests. No two students are alike. The approach is eclectic. Once the assessment is done, the personal curriculum is designed, and materials chosen.

“A typical week includes two meetings of 90 minutes between the tutor and the learner. These meetings split into three half-hour chunks: warm-ups, reading strategies, and writing, always with the particular needs of the student in mind, and always focusing upon drilling and basics.

I asked Valerie if she could tell me one of their many success stories. The one she shared is a beautiful example of how much a new learner’s success impacts their family.

“Mary came to READ/SD because one day her son came home from school, and asked for help on homework. The help she gave him was wrong, and he got marked off for the mistakes. After school, he told her, “I don’t want you to help me anymore.” To make it up to him, she offered to volunteer in his classroom. When the teacher asked her to grade some papers, Mary was so humiliated at not being able to read—she put the papers down, walked out, and never came back. That’s when Mary decided to reach out to READ San Diego for help.

“READ/SD asked a retired principal to become Mary’s tutor. She was pretty beat up by the experience with her son. He helped her regain her confidence. Throughout the experience, he continued to build vision for her telling her, “you’re going to go to college.”

“Her first goal was to simply help her kids with homework—simple but meaningful. When she achieved that, he moved her toward her next goal—citizenship, by helping Mary prepare for the test. She passed. The next step was getting her ready for her GED, by preparing all five sub-tests. She passed again. After that, her dream was to become a Navy reservist. He helped her study for the pre-test. She’s now serving in Afghanistan, thanks to her hard work, her wonderful tutor and the READ/SD Program. But what follows is even more inspiring.

Her daughter is now the first in their family to attend college.

“Mary’s husband, seeing her success, started with READ/SD himself. He followed the same goal path as Mary: homework help for the kids, citizenship, GED, and the Navy Reserve. He returned from Afghanistan last year.

“Those of us, who read, may not realize how reading has shaped our lives—our perceptions. Words are the building blocks of our thoughts. The larger our vocabulary, the richer our understanding, and the more nuanced and varied the opportunities of life become to us. When we teach someone to read, we open the door and release that person from the prison of ignorance.

“Reading is something we must not take for granted. For almost half a million adults in the San Diego area, not being able to read is an ever-present obstacle that keeps them from leading a normal life.

“Valerie Hardie and the volunteers at READ/SD are making a huge difference for individuals and families. If you are interested in finding out how you can participate in a program in your area, contact the at


“National Center for Family Literacy?325 West Main Street, Suite 300?Louisville, KY 40202


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