Guest column: Celebrating National Literacy Day -- read all about it

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Guest commentary

Every year, as Americans, we recognize a variety of holidays, secular and religious, that provide an opportunity to reflect or celebrate a person, an event or a time of historic significance. Sadly, one particular “holiday” is seldom acknowledged or celebrated. I refer to International Literacy Day, which appeared on calendars almost 50 years ago but still passes almost unrecognized today. It is always held on Sept. 8.

International Literacy Day, as proclaimed by UNESCO, was first celebrated in 1966. The aim was to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Each succeeding year, International Literacy Day reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally.

Literacy has been defined by ProLiteracy America as the ability to read, write, compute and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee and community member.

Yet, literacy is in a sorry state. Some 775 million adults around the world lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. More than 60 million children are categorized as “out of school” and therefore not being taught to read and write. Many more children attend schools irregularly or drop out.

The U.S. ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations.

Low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in America.

According to 2012 census data, Collier County has a population of 332,427. Of that number, 30.9 percent people speak a language other than English in their homes, and 26.2 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino.

So, what is being done locally about literacy and do we have anything to celebrate? We certainly do. For 30 years, Literacy Volunteers of Collier County (LVCC) has been teaching people to read, write and speak English. Our mission continues unabated today with the majority of our work centered on teaching English as a second language.

At any one time we have more than 100 volunteer tutors, trained to our standards, working with hundreds of adult learners. In prior years, our tutors worked with a largely Hispanic population, but now the percentage has changed: almost 55 percent of the students on our waiting list are Haitian, and 40 percent Hispanic/Latino.

To extend our reach to very early learners, we introduced a Family Literacy program two years ago, teaching English to prekindergarten children at Parkside Elementary School, where over 86 percent of the children come from homes where English is not spoken, and at Golden Gate Elementary School, where the numbers are similar. At these sessions, LVCC tutors also instruct the parents of the pre-K children. It has been such a successful effort that more elementary schools are asking LVCC for similar help — a definite cause for celebration.

LVCC’s impact would be even more vital if we could recruit, train and retain more volunteer tutors. Each year our training workshops give volunteers the opportunity to join our ranks. No knowledge of a second language or experience as a teacher is required. Recently we graduated 20 new volunteers to teach English in Collier County. If readers are interested in having a cause for celebrating literacy, then they would enjoy participating in LVCC’s next tutor training session starting on Oct. 3.

Call LVCC at 239-262-4448, ext. 304, for registration information, or visit LVCC’s website: www.Collierliteracy.org

Our celebration of literacy is, of course, ongoing as LVCC reaches and teaches more families and more people to read, write and speak English. How rewarding it would be if Sept. 8 were recognized every year throughout Collier County, and not just by those who are working on the front lines to change people’s lives through literacy.

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