RoCo Literacy Council: One Word at a Time

literacyI’m a bookworm, always have been. I learned the basics of reading before I started school, and I never looked back. As a child, what I got punished for most often was reading after “lights out.” My parents were both voracious readers, as well, which resulted in a house filled with books. In the early years, my taste ran more to series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins, but my father always encouraged me to reach for the classics. Stranger in a Strange Land. Anne of Green Gables. To Kill a Mockingbird. I surprised both my folks when I read The Chosen at age 10. Nowadays, I read strictly for fun. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve read everything Danielle Steel has written that I can get my hands on. I like chick lit, but not romance. My favorite author, though, is Jonathan Kellerman, and the adventures of Alex Delaware and Milo. I enjoy Sue Grafton, too. Maybe it comes from being the daughter of a cop, but I always enjoy a good crime story.

My point in all this is, reading is a gift, and it’s been a source of joy, imagination, and learning since I was five years old. But did you know that 8% of folks right here in Rogers County are either illiterate, or operate at a low literacy level? That’s 5000 of our neighbors. It doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It means that for whatever reason, may it be a learning disability, leaving school at an early age to work, or a rough childhood, they didn’t pick up all the skills they needed. There are as many reasons as there are learners. And I hate to think of people missing out on the pleasure of reading.

I learned all of this recently, when moreClaremore received a call from Edel Godwin, executive director of the Rogers County Literacy Council. Edel asked if I would listen to what she had to say and spread the word about the organization. Being that she has a tremendously delightful Irish accent, I told her I would be happy to listen as long as she was willing to talk.

Of course, when Edel and I met at her office at the Will Rogers Library, I had to ask: how does a lady with a lovely Irish lilt end up in Claremore, Oklahoma? The answer had something to do with a very tall soldier with stunning blue eyes. Edel and her husband, Jeff, met in Germany shortly after college. She came to Oklahoma with him. They lived at Ft. Sill. Then Norman. Then Claremore. Here in town, she looked for a part-time job which would give her some free time to volunteer. She ended up working with the Rogers County Historical Society and running the tea room at the Belvidere. Then Jeff’s job moved the family (they now have two teenage daughters) to Toronto for two years. Then back to Claremore. She figures she must love it here if she moved here twice! Upon their return to Claremore, she began working with the Literacy Council and then accepted the position of Executive Director.

The Literacy Council is in its 29th year of operation (can you believe that? I had no idea.) and serves two main purposes. First, “learners” can be taught American Basic English, which consists of reading and writing, up to an 8th grade level. Second, English as a Second Language, or ESL, classes are also popular.

literacyWith the ABE learners, they are generally taught in a one-on-one environment with a tutor. In fact, the Literacy Council’s motto is “Each One, Teach One.” Learners are asked to make both a short-term and a long-term goal for themselves. According to Edel, one popular long-term goal is to be able to read the Bible. Being that it’s a particularly challenging read even on a good day, short-term goals are more manageable, such as being able to read a bedtime story to a young child at home. To read grandma’s favorite recipe, or even road signs. Tutors are encouraging and ask for new goals once the current ones have been met. Books, workbooks, and various learning materials are used in the process.

ESL classes are taught in small groups. New classes are forming now, in both Claremore and Catoosa. I just realized that I forgot to mention that these opportunities are FREE , y’all. That’s right. FREE. (Please note that some books may need to be purchased; if the cost is a hardship, the materials can be sponsored by the Council.) Anyway, ESL classes are starting soon, and sign-up is happening now, until just after Labor Day. Class sizes are small, and this course will focus on how to communicate with teachers in your child’s school. It’s the perfect time of year to tackle issues like how to deal with parent-teacher conferences. I hear they’re nerve-racking enough even if English is your first language.

If you are at least 16 years old and are interested in improving your literacy skills, it’s not a difficult process. Potential learners need to stop by the Will Rogers Library on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 9:30a – 4:30p. An “intake” is done, along with some paperwork, in order to find out your strengths and your preferred method of learning. Audial? Visual? A combination? Then an assessment is done, to test your skill level, so that you’re matched with the proper tutor. The Council currently serves about 50 learners with 17 tutors. And all of the tutors are volunteers.

literacy2The Rogers County Literacy Council is a United Way organization, primarily funded by grants and the annual letter campaign. If you are interested in donating time or money, or in being a tutor, please contact Edel at 918-277-4331, or visit the office during office hours. New classes are forming now, but enrollment is open all year round. 

I did not realize until my meeting with Edel how crucial an issue literacy impairment is. Can you imagine not being able to read your own prescription bottle? Or not being able to fill out a job application, or a form at the doctor’s office? Being able to write an email is something I take for granted, but that’s not the case for everyone. There are so many reasons that contribute to literacy issues, that it’s absolutely unfair to judge one for not being able to read as well as the next person. What if you had a stroke and forgot everything? The Literacy Council has learners in that same situation, as well as many others.

Let’s help our neighbors out, Rogers County. If you are interested in donating to a worthwhile cause, or know someone who may benefit from the classes offered by Edel and her team, please contact the RoCo Literacy CouncilDonations can be mailed to Rogers County Literacy Council at 1515 N Florence, Claremore, 74017. You can also follow the organization on Facebook

Keep it local, Claremore.

-MCM Staffer Ashley, 

who is a complete and total book nerd


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