04/01/13 — Literacy Connections helps adults' basic reading skills

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Literacy Connections helps adults' basic reading skills

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on April 1, 2013 1:46 PM

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Andi DeRoin, right, lead tutor and AmeriCorps member, works with Marquis Miller on his reading and writing skills at Literacy Connections of Wayne County. DeRoin will work with 25 literacy students on an average day. Miller has been going to the center since last August and has increased his reading and writing capabilities one level according to the CASAS test, which is a standardized test for literacy.

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Marquis Miller writes a short story during his literacy lessons at Literacy Connections of Wayne County.

Andi DeRoin spends a few moments staring at a sign-in sheet. The small organized lines that should create meaning are incomprehensible to her. Should she sign her name? Maybe a birthday? Or perhaps a phone number? She just can't read it.

But that's because she made it that way.

At one time, to increase her own understanding of literacy tutoring, Mrs. DeRoin, lead tutor at Literacy Connections of Wayne County, replaced the written signs in the building with nonsense symbols to simulate how hard it is to function when you cannot understand what they mean.

It struck her how the most basic of items, a sign-in sheet that required times in and out, could be completely useless to someone who couldn't read.

"We don't really understand what it means to be illiterate," Mrs. DeRoin said.

For many of the men and women who stop by the office of Literacy Connections every day, the lessons they learn there are the first steps toward mastering a life skill most people take for granted -- reading.

It's a major problem for the county. As many as 10,000 residents in Wayne County are functionally illiterate and many more can't read above a ninth-grade reading level, according to the 2000 census.

Literacy Connections offers those who want the chance the opportunity to learn how to read by using one-on-one tutoring.

The organization began in 2009 with three students. Today, there are nearly 300.

And that means the need for more tutors, said Mrs. DeRoin, who is currently serving as lead tutor as part of AmeriCorps, a federal program that offers subsidized workers for community service.

Tutors are matched mostly through availability, but as more students come through word of mouth, the one-on-one tutoring has started to shift toward one-on-two or one-on-three.

Mrs. DeRoin spends 15 to 20 hours a week tutoring her adult students. She says being a successful tutor doesn't require a background in teaching, but rather some patience and creativity.

"The biggest thing is to have patience and the willingness to work with an adult student," she said. "The hardest thing about tutoring is learning to slow down. Our students want to learn. It's not that they can't."

Mrs. DeRoin originally started out as a psychology major in college and learned late in her college career that she would rather pursue social work, seeking to offer opportunities to all people, not just those who are a part of the upper middle class world she grew up in.

"And a lot of that is unfair. I didn't ask to be like that, and they didn't ask to be poor. But I can act as an ally," she said.

She eventually hopes to pursue a graduate degree in social work. But for now, she finds her time as a tutor to be personally satisfying and beneficial to those concentrated on improving their reading skills and accomplishing their goals, both big and small.

Her role as lead tutor has her often helping other tutors develop their own lessons while pointing out the many donated materials and resources that the center has on hand.

"I'm kind of like the signpost," she said.

Tutors create relationships with students and learn their interests in overall goals. For example, a student might be trying to read to take a more active part in church services. A tutor will then use religious texts and children's Bibles to keep the student interested.

Unlike teaching children to read, adults can come with all sorts of experiences and levels of learning. The basic lessons most children learn in kindergarten, such as "B" equals "", don't really work well with adults. They require more manipulative techniques and more enthusiasm complete with miming and jumping up-and-down to get a point across.

"It's not supposed to be boring here," she said.

Mrs. DeRoin enjoys her job. For her, literacy is a form of social justice.

"(Literacy) is a human right. You can look at it from that experience. It's really nice being a part of that change," she said.

Some students never make huge strides in their reading comprehension with their tutor, but any stride forward is a plus, Mrs. DeRoin said. It's the impact that counts.

"Even an inch of progress, that's great. That's valuable. Just being able to sound out words while getting gas, that is a huge achievement," she said. "Just being able to write your name, that was really a big deal."

The organization currently has 30 tutors on file. Training is made available to those who want to become tutors, and there is a support system as well as many resources available at the Literacy Connections office to help them get started and to maintain their lessons.

Anyone interested in becoming a tutor should contact Literacy Connections of Wayne County at 919-735-1990.

Literacy Connections' new facility is located on Ash Street next to the Senior Center and is now accessible by bus.