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Service Helps Improve Adult Literacy in the District
George Washington University students and faculty tutor adults with poor reading skills.
September 12, 2012
On a recent afternoon at the Washington Literacy Center, a GW professor and graduate student led 10 Washingtonians in a reading of a Langston Hughes poem.
Kathy Newcomer, director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, and graduate student Kristin Hubing sat with the center’s adult students as they read "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
“With poetry, you want to look at the meaning of each individual line,” Ms. Hubing explained to the adult students. “Why do you think he talks about the rivers? A river is something natural and something everyone can connect to.”
The reading session was part of a new volunteer program for George Washington University students and faculty, who will tutor adults in reading skills over the course of three weeks at the Washington Literacy Center – a nonprofit organization that works to raise the literacy level of adults in Washington, D.C., to advance their employment prospects. The idea for the program, which is called Reading Leaders, came out of the Faculty Senate Committee on the University and Urban Affairs. The committee, which Dr. Newcomer chairs, wanted to establish a faculty community service project, and improving literacy seemed like a natural fit.
Thirty million Americans – 14 percent of the adult population – read at the fifth-grade level or lower. In Washington, the problem is even worse. According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), 36 percent of District residents over the age of 16 read at the fifth-grade level or lower. Poor literacy impacts Washingtonians’ chances of advancing their careers. Fewer than 60 percent of District residents who completed the General Education Development (GED) test passed, and OSSE attributes this low passing rate to low literacy rates. And the D.C. Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 2000 and 2005, the District lost up to $535 million in tax revenues as a result of businesses’ inability to fill job positions with District residents.
“As a public policy student who is focused specifically on social policy, including education policy, I recognize some of the shortcomings of our country’s public education system and the importance of filling those gaps wherever possible,” said Ms. Hubing, a Trachtenberg graduate student.
The Washington Literacy Center is one of the District’s oldest adult basic education organizations. The center, which works with about 120 students a year, offers intensive small-group instruction, individual tutoring and ongoing case management to connect students with support services and partnerships with GED and job training programs.
Dr. Newcomer invited all faculty and graduate students to volunteer with the program, which runs through next week. While the program is only scheduled for three weeks, Dr. Newcomer hopes GW will be able to continue to partner with the Washington Literacy Center in the future.
“I have a profound sense of respect and admiration for the adults in the District who are learning to read despite the many obstacles they face, and I have an enormous appreciation for the Washington Literacy Center,” said Dr. Newcomer. “They are really incredible in how well they meet the needs of their students and alumni.”