In my late teens and early twenties, I volunteered with a community literacy program that paired increasing literacy and diversity. As such, I was partnered with a young Caucasian man I’ll call Mark.
A year younger than me and just a year out of high school, Mark was one of those unfortunate students ignored by the education system and pushed through school with passing grades. Coming from a home where reading wasn’t a priority, no one realized Mark could read, but only enough to get by, much like my own father. There were nearly seventy years between my father’s school days and Mark’s. My father had to quit school at age nine. Mark was handed a high school diploma. Both were functionally illiterate.
While members of the literacy program would meet together to brainstorm and strategize on how best to help the program’s students, we were not teachers or educators. We were students, retirees, stay-at-home moms, moms employed outside the home, and professionals in other areas. Sometimes, teachers would join the program and write outlines for us and give us benchmarks to aim for, but most of the time we were just a group of ordinary folks who wanted to help others.
After determining Mark’s reading level, I gave him two books, a writing pad, and a dictionary. He was one read one chapter, look up and write down the definition of any word he didn’t understand, and write one paragraph in his own words what the chapter was about.
With an eight or twelve-week learning plan, most students completed the course with increased reading skills. Mark signed up for the twelve-week session and was determined to finish…because he wanted to join the military. Our program worked for people like Mark because we didn’t work on fixed times and locations like the larger better-funded organizations. Working nights with a restaurant clean-up crew and picking up odd jobs in construction meant Mark’s schedule could change daily. There were times he did miss one or both of our twice weekly sessions. But I have to confess I was near tears when he did show up…he always had his words and his paragraph.
Circumstances led to my having to relocate before completing the sessions with Mark. I wish I could say I knew what happened with him, but life isn’t that easy.
However, through friends connected with the literacy program I do know 1) Mark completed the program; 2) he never made it to the military; 3) He DID enroll in college.
That’s enough for me.
During the month of March, four random commenters – one each week – will win ebooks copies of some of my favorite books from authors like Toni Morrison, Terry Dean, and Walter Mosley!
March is National Reading Month and I invite you to #ReadwithMe by sharing a story about your love of reading.
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