As October arrives and the weather cools, things are heating up at the Newberry County Literacy Council.
In addition to our tutoring and computer classes, we have four ongoing programs that, by chance rather than planning, seem linked by a common thread.
Let me explain. The FAST Program (Family and Schools Together), which promotes interaction between parents, their school children, and their schools, has been meeting on Tuesday nights.
Barbara Chapman, the director of the Literacy Council and the FAST Program, has been using poetry to spur greater awareness of and appreciation for the sounds of words and language, the enjoyment of reading, and the importance of parents reading aloud to children.
Working with young children on verbal skills is vital for their future school success. Sometimes parents do not have ability to help their children.One-quarter of adults in Newberry County do not have a high school degree.
The rest of us can step up as mentors and volunteers with programs that help parents and children and in addressing ways to deal with those who are being left behind.
Meanwhile our People’s College class, Politics 102, has been reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln. In our class Monday night, we discussed how various childhood experiences helped prepare him for his later role.
He had almost no formal education but was fortunate to have mentors who instilled in him a love of reading and books and conversation. Later as a young adult others encouraged his ambitions to grow and succeed. One steered him toward the law.
Lincoln was very bright but without the guidance and support he received he would not have reached the heights he did.
The importance of an emphasis on reading in childhood and of support and encouragement from mentors has also been a theme of our Weekly Readers Book Club.
We are discussing Pat Conroy’s “The Water is Wide,” about his year teaching children on Daufuskie Island. The children are eager to learn and experience the world but have had little opportunity to do either.
Their parents are descendants of slaves and victims of a Jim Crow era that saddled them with poor schools, limited economic opportunities, and an isolated existence on an island not connected by bridge to the mainland.
Their children suffer from the circumstances of the parents who are unable to provide needed support and skills to them. Consequently, Conroy finds the children mostly illiterate and unaware of the larger world off their island. His challenge is to overcome, to the extent possible, these barriers they face.
He uses a great deal of experiential learning as he takes them off the island to see the bigger world and learn about people and ways that are different from what they have known.
Our Brown Bad Dialogues group has also been meeting. Described in one of our earlier columns as frank discussions among leaders and volunteers at local non-profits, we have been looking at demographic data related to income and poverty, education, health care, and racial differences in these areas.
We have a fine community but there are many who are not succeeding as we would like all to do. That is one reason we have non-profits organizations such as the Literacy Council.
If we want all to move out of poverty, succeed in school, and have access to regular medical care, we need a more comprehensive plan of action. That is where our dialogues will be turning in our next meetings. Since all of these issues are interconnected, an action plan must address them all.
Poverty affects school performance, school performance is linked to income, health care is connected to income and education. Collaboration among agencies and targeting the causes of social issues are worthy goals in any planning.
So, thematically, the Literacy Council is weaving a thread through its programs that can produce a tapestry for literacy: mentor and read to the young, address issues of poverty, race, and opportunities; collaborate as widely as possible in promoting success for all.
Finally, we can confirm that the Newberry Literacy Council will be moving from its office on Caldwell Street to 1208 Main St., next to the Grille. We are already holding our People’s College class, Weekly Readers Book Club, and the Brown Bad Dialogues there. We will be moving equipment over the next month and will keep you notified about a grand opening!
Until next time, happy reading!
Joseph McDonald is a retired sociology professor from Newberry College and has worked with the Newberry County Literacy Council for more than 20 years as a tutor and board member. The Literacy Council is located at 1121 Caldwell St. Visit newberryread.com, call 803-276-8086 or send an email to [email protected] for more information.