“Literacy opens doors,” Todd Elliot said after sharing how the Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) has impacted the lives of many of the organization’s clients. As program director of the facility for adult literacy and English language learners, Elliot has seen his clients make better lives for themselves and their loved ones by learning to read and write.
One such person was a middle-aged man from Trinidad who came to the U.S. seeking medical attention for his wife. With nothing more than a third-grade education, he had to ask for help to read the immigration forms when arriving in the states. “On the return to Trinidad, a couple turned to him and they asked him for help,” Elliot said. “That’s one of my favorite success stories to tell.”
But most adults in Maryland who struggle with reading don’t get the help they need. Of the 700,000-800,000 statewide with little or no literacy skills, only 5 percent receive services a year. And of all students in the city who solicit adult education programs, 66 percent range from preliterate to meeting eighth-grade level expectations.
“Preliterate means maybe knowing the alphabet, but they may not know how to string those letters together to form words,” Elliot said. “It refers to people who know enough signs and symbols to function but not be able to function fluently. Functional illiteracy is a very large problem but people manage to survive.”
The problem of adult illiteracy has many roots, Elliot said. It could stem from misdiagnosis of a learning disability, or the maltreatment of a learning disability from an early age. He also said family issues force many children to leave school early, or otherwise, students just get discouraged in school and give up.
“I think more often than not they were struggling with reading and math skills to begin with and by eighth or ninth grade they are floundering and end up leaving,” he said.
Of the students at GHCC, half are English language learners. According to the Maryland Association for Adult Community and Continuing Education (MAACCE), 6 percent of
Baltimore’s foreign-born population speaks English “less than very well.” Of the entire Baltimore population, 27 percent are English language learners, 21 percent have beginning level skills and 11 percent have more than 12 years of education.
“It’s very much a dichotomy,” Elliot said. “With foreign-born people, they are often highly educated in their own countries but they can’t succeed here because of the language barrier. With the native-born, they just struggle for whatever reason. It’s very hard to go through a job-training program to learn how to do something if you don’t know how to read.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said 31 percent of adults in Baltimore City are without a high school diploma. To promote literacy, she said she fully funded Enoch Pratt Library in the city’s budget to keep all community libraries open, and declared June 23 Literacy Day throughout the city.
“Adult literacy is a crisis for Baltimore,” she said. “The right to literacy is a city top priority and should be a national priority.”
For more information on GHCC, visit www.GreaterHomewood.org.