More than 21 percent of adults cannot read over a fifth-grade level, and 19 percent of high school students cannot read at all. Literacy in the United States is a skill that is often overlooked; it is assumed that all children enrolled in school are given every opportunity to learn how to read, and that they will be successful at reading. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but the Capital Area Literacy Coalition (CALC) is working to change that.
Founded in 1985 by Dr. Lois Bader, CALC’s mission is to help people achieve their own goals in literacy.
“We help adults and children to read English,” said CALC’s Assistant Director, Di Clark. “We don’t teach other languages and we prioritize to the needy.”
Because CALC is a nonprofit, all of their services are completely free. This makes it easy for students to utilize CALC’s services, especially when they might not be able to afford formal tutoring.
Clark emphasized the fact that poverty is one of the leading causes of illiteracy. Some of their students have high school diplomas but are reading at a fourth-grade level.
“Kids show up and try and don’t cause trouble, so they allow these students to graduate even if they’re getting nothing out of their education,” said Clark. She explained that the system allows children to become illiterate, especially in low-income areas. She recounted a story of a fourth-grade girl who attended 14 different schools by the time she was 10 years old. Because her parents couldn’t afford to stay in one place, she had to switch schools constantly and was overlooked by the public school system.
The consequences of illiteracy continue after high school and reinforce the cycle of poverty. If an individual cannot read, they cannot fill out a job application, which means that they will not have money to rent an apartment or even buy food. This cycle is relentless but reading is a skill that can help to break it.
CALC staff members have worked hard to create a tutoring program that can be tailored to each individual. Clark is proud of the work that they have accomplished.
“We teach people how to read. We’re not educators, but Dr. Bader is an international expert on literacy intervention and remediation,” she said.
CALC wants students to feel encouraged and supported. There is no timeline when it comes to learning, and students cannot be “held back.” In order to provide their students with the best course of learning, CALC conducts an in-depth pretest for all students to ascertain their current reading levels. Once a student’s reading level is determined, they tailor their tutoring sessions to what that particular student is struggling with. This teaches students to learn instead of being further discouraged by the process.
“If the content is meaningful to you, then you are going to be more motivated to learn it. Then the learning takes off,” said Clark.
CALC also collects books in order to provide for families who cannot afford them. They distributed more than 30,000 books last year and are always looking for donations. Clark explained that if a family cannot afford to buy food, they definitely couldn’t afford to buy books. Community outreach and donations are an essential part of the coalition. Not only does CALC collect books and offer tutoring at their office in Lansing, but they also have a “Read to Succeed” program that functions with the help of MSU students. The MSU Student Literacy Corps has an office in Erickson Hall, and they pair MSU students with elementary school students in the Lansing area. This one-on-one tutoring helps combat literacy issues in elementary schools around the area. CALC is always looking for volunteers, and the beginning of the school year is a great time to try something new.
If you are interested in volunteering with CALC or the “Read to Succeed” program, visit their website at thereadingpeople.org or call (517) 485-4949.
Lauren Gaynor is an English and professional writing major from Chicago, Ill. When she isn’t reading for class, drinking coffee or performing with the theater group Roial Players, she can be found at Twenty One Pilots concerts or exploring the hidden gems that the city of Chicago has to offer.