Many adults around you can’t read

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 9, 2007

At least one in three adults living in Natchez/Adams County cannot read above a fifth-grade level; in fact, they cannot read well enough to fill out a job application, help their children with homework or even read directions on a medicine bottle.

That’s right, 35 percent of the adults in Adams County are functionally illiterate. Adams, Jefferson and Copiah counties in Mississippi have the highest illiteracy rate based on the U.S. Census of 1990 and 2000. In fact, for more than 27 years, the illiteracy statistics have remained the same. More than 90 million adults in the United States are functionally illiterate; 45 million of these adults are below a second-grade or at a third-grade reading level; 50 percent of adults in the United States cannot read above an eighth-grade level; 34 million adults over the age of 18 did not complete high school.

These statistics are staggering. Furthermore, the United States ranks 49 among 156 U.N. member countries in its rate of literacy. In fact, 771 million adults worldwide (one fifth of the world adult population) are illiterate.

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Now that I have your undivided attention, what can we do in our area to solve the problem of illiteracy? First of all, if you have a relative, friend or acquaintance who has difficulty reading, please inform them that there are adult basic education programs available at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson and Natchez. Also, if you know someone who reads at a very low level, or perhaps cannot read at all, the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, at the Natchez Senior Citizens Center at 800 Washington St. (601-442-5082) offers the gift of literacy by teaching one-on-one instruction to anyone over the age of 18 years of age who lacks the basic literacy skills.

How else can the community help to solve the illiteracy problem? Tutors are always needed to teach adults to read. If you have the desire to teach someone to read and if you have three hours a week to spend with a student, contact me at the RSVP office. Tutors are trained in the “Laubach Way to Reading” method. It is a basic reading and writing series developed specifically for adults with little or no reading ability. Prospective tutors will be trained before being placed with a student.

Another way the community can help is to make a donation, any amount is appreciated, to the RSVP Adult Education Program, 800 Washington St., Natchez. It takes approximately $400 to teach a student to read to the ninth-grade level. Any amount will be greatly appreciated from individuals, churches, businesses or civic organizations. All donations received are utilized in purchasing student and tutor books and supplies.

Finally, unless we begin to solve the illiteracy problem right at home, the grim statistics on the national, state and local level will continue to escalate. Become involved by telling a loved one or friend about our adult literacy program; become a tutor and give the gift of literacy to someone who is having difficulty in reading; or give a donation to the RSVP Adult Education Program. The problem of illiteracy is like a cancer that spreads everywhere. The only way to stop the spreading of illiteracy is to treat it with community support. Remember, illiteracy is not only tragic for the people involved, it is also a growing threat to our nation, our state our own community.

Janet McNeely is the director of the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program.