Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Literacy Volunteers Meet the Charlotte County School System

It looks like the name of my blog might have to change since it appears that I have what I call a "retirement job".  What, you might ask, is a retirement job?  For me, it's a job that I'll be doing for the enjoyment of it, not for the cold hard cash.  Having spent the last 18 months in New Jersey working with Literacy Volunteers of Union County as a tutor and a Board member, I found that I have a passion for the cause of adult literacy.  Here in Charlotte County, Florida, the illiteracy rate is 17.9%, which means that almost one of every five adults does not have the skills that people like us take for granted to negotiate through our daily lives.  So, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Punta Gorda was find a place where I could continue to help adult learners improve their literacy.

The Adult Learning Center in Port Charlotte is a different type of literacy program than what I'm used to working with.  Literacy Volunteers is a volunteer-based program (hence the name).   Tutors meet with their students one on one or in small groups to help them achieve their goals.  These goals can range from learning enough English to read a book to a grandchild to passing the GED.  Needless to say, a one size fits all approach doesn't work for this type of program.    The Adult Learning Center's general approach has been to provide classes for ESOL students and a lab environment for adult basic ed students (people working towards a GED), with assistance from paid instructors. This makes sense since the Center is part of the Charlotte County School System.  (It actually "sits" under the adult vocational tech center on an org chart.)   As the volunteer coordinator at the Adult Learning Center, my challenge is to figure out a way to meld the two programs. 

First I'd like to say a bit about becoming an employee of the Charlotte County School System.  The eventual goal is for the volunteer coordinator position to be a paid part-time job within the School District.  There's no money in the budget now to pay me so this is contingent on getting some grant money (and since I have to write the grant, who knows when that will happen!)  Leslie Isley, director of the Center, thought it would be a good idea to get me in the system now since it's a time consuming process, so I put an application in for an ESOL instructor position.  I have to say that I'm finding the diligence of the School District a bit hilarious.  Not only do I need three written references, I also have to submit transcripts from Mount Holyoke and Harvard Law School.  (Do they want to see my grades or just know that I actually graduated? Maybe they're curious about my SAT score!)  Whether they're looking at my transcripts or the completed reference forms (with questions about my non-existent teaching experience), they're not going to see anything that's remotely relevant to what I'll be doing here!   I am just finding this process a bit funny when nothing like this was required when I was being hired to work on multi-million dollar transactions for various financial services companies.  (Maybe that was actually the reason for the problems with the industry--my last job, after all, was with Bear Stearns!)

This is all a bit of a digression from the hard work involved in getting a program up and running.  In addition to writing a couple of grants for funding, I am putting together a small training program for prospective tutors (which will of course have to be marketed), figuring out how to match tutors with students and thinking ahead to keeping the tutors supported as they work with their students.  I commented to someone from another program that getting a program running is a daunting task.  Her response was to laugh and say that keeping it running is just as daunting!   It does make me wonder a bit what I have gotten myself into.  In the meantime, I just received an e-mail from an instructor at the Center saying that she has a new student who is reading at the second grade level who would like to work with a tutor.  When things get a bit overwhelming or frustrating as I move forward with my retirement job, I'll think about what a difference knowing how to read will make in this woman's life.

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