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Literacy Council of Kingsport celebrating 30th anniversary

Katherine Scoggins • Mar 20, 2016 at 4:30 PM

It is a small, almost hidden, office on Commerce Street in Downtown Kingsport, located in a row of small storefronts and offices, down the street from the old Sobel’s. Even if you drive slowly, you might still miss it, but no worries, there’s a small sign near the door that reads “The Literacy Council of Kingsport.”

But make no mistake about it, because even though it looks small and unassuming, great and powerful things go on behind this door. Its mission is both bold and commanding: “To provide tutoring for adults and qualified children to improve their reading and writing skills and to be an advocate for literacy within the Greater Kingsport community.” Their vision “to improve lives and a stronger community through the power of literacy” tells simply what it is that they do in this small office five days a week.

Since 1986, when the Council was organized, the mission has been fairly consistent over the years, though the methods of carrying out that mission have changed dramatically. Yes, tutors still teach individuals to read, but now the focus is primarily on adults of all ages. Adults? “Yes,” says Megan Miller, Executive Director of the Literacy Council of Kingsport (LCK) “because in America, 36 million adults over the age of 16 cannot read above a third-grade reading level. In Tennessee, 12 percent of adults over age 16 lack basic prose literacy levels. In Sullivan County, approximately 15,400 adults over age 16 have less than adequate literacy skills.” (Sources: 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 1992 National Adult Literacy Study.)

“In Kingsport in 2015, over 100 volunteers including 39 tutors provided 7,163 hours of service (an average of 60 hours per tutor), a value of $165,250. One hundred percent of adult students improved their reading skills. This is an amazing achievement in and of itself,” Miller goes on to explain, “but what does ‘literacy’ mean? Well, most know that literacy is the ability to read, comprehend and use written information to function effectively in our everyday lives in order to achieve goals and to develop knowledge and potential. But did you know it also means completing a job application, helping a child with homework, reading the newspaper, paying bills and writing checks, or following directions on a medicine bottle?”

A dedicated non-profit group of volunteers works to recruit students and makes services available to anyone who needs them, regardless of race, gender, religion or ability to pay. Tutors are trained to teach. As a result, tutors can be found in various elementary schools, public housing, the Kingsport Public Library, non-profit after school programs and even grocery stores! Yes, some students spend part of their class time in the grocery store: reading labels, understanding ingredients and acting out monetary transactions.

“The LCK is adult oriented because national studies have shown that children growing up in homes with adults who have only basic learning skills are automatically disadvantaged,” says Miller. “Illiteracy is self perpetuating and, in today’s world, there are few jobs that don’t require some basic learning skills. An employee who can’t understand written directions or add a row of numbers on a piece of paper doesn’t just have low labor value - he’s a potential liability,” she adds.

There are also new ways of teaching and tutoring that enhance the traditional methods. The LCK holds a number of Laubach Reading materials, a phonics-based reading program designed to help students develop basic reading and writing skills and set and achieve individual goals. For those for whom English is not their first language, one-on-one tutoring helps students learn to speak, understand, read and write English. Computers are also used to supplement the traditional literacy instruction and to develop basic computer skills.

To support these various teaching methods, the LCK uses books that are considered more mature and sophisticated, such as the classics, but are written on a lower literacy level, because adults and older teens don’t like to be seen reading children’s books. The LCK also receives newspapers that feature many of the same news items that regular newspapers carry, but they also have phonetic pronunciation guides for long or unfamiliar words (such as names and places), educational crossword puzzles and vocabulary words.

But perhaps some of the most innovative and creative classes are those held at the Literacy Council office and the Kingsport Public Library and deal with conversation. Vocabulary, expression and fluency are “practiced” with class participants, along with interviewing skills, phone skills and role-playing situations such as a parent-teacher conferences.

As you might imagine, the LCK is always in need of trained tutors and volunteers to work with students. They will offer their spring training from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, April 16, at the Kingsport Public Library. If interested, please contact the Literacy Council of Kingsport at 423-392-4643 or email them at [email protected] Or visit literacycouncilofkingsport.org.

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