Derik Jardine wrote -
Consider for a moment the impact you literacy has on daily life. Do you take it for granted? Literacy goes far beyond enjoying a great novel. It allows you to see what is on the menu, where your bus stop is, and text a friend where to meet. These tasks, likely perceived as trivial, are out of reach to some Americans.
According to U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 14% of the adult population (over 30 million Americans) is illiterate — defined as reading below a basic level – barring them from applying to jobs, understanding a housing agreement, or writing a compelling college admissions essay.
Furthermore, 29% of the adult population can only read at the most basic level; they can read single words or phrases but cannot synthesize the complex text found in literature, industry, and research. Functional illiteracy, while less visible, can be a barrier to higher education, career advancement, and community engagement.
Unfortunately, illiteracy is far more prevalent in historically underserved and marginalized communities. Of the 32 million illiterate Americans, 41% are Hispanic and 24% are Black. The problem is deeper than staying in school, with nearly 1 in 5 high school graduates unable to read. For these Americans, the system failed to give them a vital skill to succesfully navigate our information-saturated world.
As a gift, literacy has to be given, whether by a parent, a tutor, or an a few underpaid, dedicated primary school instructors. Not everyone has received the gift. Whatever their story, many want another shot at learning to read. Finances and age maximums limit their options. Adults in need of literacy education typically lack the finances to hire or enroll in private sector offerings and are barred from attending secondary school at the age of 21, leaving the non-profit sector to fill this need.
We at Literacy Chicago give the 800,000 adult Chicagoans who read below the fourth grade level another chance -- through formal couses courses taught by professional instructors. These courses, tailored for adult learners, are what seperates us from other literacy efforts in Chicago. Best of all, the courses come at no cost to our students. Beyond basic reading and writing, our courses stretch across a number of useful “literacies” — citizenship, financial, educational and technological.
Our citizenship literacy course is aimed at helping legal immigrants to navigate the path to citizenship, while financial literacy involves understanding the basics of budgeting, taxes, and investing. Our students can also prepare for to take the GED and apply to community colleges through our educational literacy offerings. Finally, technological literacy provides training on the basics of the everywhere computer, how to type, create and save files, and make a spreadsheet or presentation.
While we rely heavily on volunteer work, we still need to pay for our building and provide a living wage to our licensed instructors. Our immediate goal is to raise $5,000 before the end of the year — enough to cover tuition for five students — giving them the gift of literacy this holiday season and further advancing literacy and adult education in the city of Chicago.
Literacy Chicago at a Glance:
- 425 Students
- 125 Volunteers
- 8 Instructors
- 3 Administrative Staff
- Adult Learning Literacy Class – Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced
- Adult Basic Education Class
- GED Preparation Class
- English Second Language Class – Beginning and Intermediate
- English Second Language Conversation Class
- Transportation Bridge Program – soft skills in the workplace
- Citizenship Program
Student Testimony -- Literacy Chicago Makes a Difference:
"Everyone who has passed through the doors of Literacy Chicago has a story. My story is like many others. When I came to the Literacy Chicago, I had a fourth grade education. I came to realize that it was very hard to make a good living without credentials. I had worked as a bricklayer; yet, I did not understand simple measurements or math. Consequently, I made many mistakes. I had to change my life if I wanted to be successful. I dreamed about having a masonry and construction business with employees, and supporting my family. I studied ferociously for my GED, asking instructors for extra work, and in six months I earned the GED. My instructors referred me to construction programs, and I studied to become a skilled mason. I worked on my writing skills and asked my instructor to teach me proposal writing techniques. I now have even more than I dreamed. I have a successful masonry and construction business with several employees. I am giving back to others by apprenticing high-risk young men, and my greatest reward is that I’m making a difference and I am supporting my family. I don’t know where I would be if Literacy Chicago had not taken an interest in me, and helped me believe that I could not only reach for the stars, but grasp them.”