State literacy programs still in their infancy

By Julie Fann

Full-time, year-round literacy programs across the state of Tennessee have only existed since 1986, not yet 20 years. It is no wonder many programs have only recently gained solid footing, with directors able to witness the fruits of their labor.
   "In 1981, coordinators were hired in upper east Tennessee to start the Volunteer Literacy Program, and the only qualification was to have a high school education," said Phil White, Director of Adult Education for the state. "When we expanded the programs to full time, we didn't want to throw those people out. So they were offered to continue. In the last few years (since 1986), those hired must have a college degree and be certified to teach in public schools."
   Of the state's 95 counties, 89 have full-time supervisors of literacy/adult education programs, according to White. Only one or two of those supervisors is without a college education.
   Even though Linda Bowling, Family Literacy Coordinator for Carter County, does not have a college degree, she does have 27 years of experience in education and is highly revered among her colleagues in the profession of Adult Education.
   "As far as I'm concerned, she is the best of the best because she can relate so well to the students and has so much respect for them. She's just a wonderful person to work with. As far as I'm concerned, she has a Ph.D," said Ann Poe, Director of Adult Education for Sullivan County.
   Family literacy programs fall under Adult Education, which offers a variety of skills training as well as pre-GED and GED instruction for those 18 years of age and older. However, few area counties have literacy programs that are separate from Adult Education and that focus solely on developing reading skills among adults. Carter County has both.
   Bowling has approximately six tutors who, with her, work one-on-one with adult students who read below a fifth grade level. During an academic year, approximately 25 students pursue family literacy classes through the Carter County Department of Education.
   Once students conquer literacy, they attend pre-GED and GED classes offered through Carter County's Adult Education program supervised by Javy Taylor, Director.
   In Washington County, the Asbury Family Resource Center helps students ages 18 to 80 work toward getting their high school diploma. However, a separate literacy program does not exist for adults.
   "We don't have a literacy program. I wish we did, but we don't because we have an alternative high school program that runs from 7:30 a.m. until 8 at night, as well as a preschool handicapped program. As a result, there are staff and space problems," said Sandra Fair, Coordinator of the Asbury Family Resource Center. Fair holds a master's degree in English.
   Sullivan and Johnson Counties also do not have literacy programs separate from Adult Education. In Sullivan County, 78 community volunteers help adult students learn needed skills, according to Poe, who has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a master's degree in Reading.
   Tutors in Sullivan County must take a 10-hour training workshop to qualify them to help adults learn. One Sullivan County volunteer goes to the county jail each year to teach female inmates there. The program also offers pre-GED and GED classes.
   In Johnson County, Adult Education Director, Jewel Hamm, has a secretary who assists her, but she does most of the work herself. "Unlike Carter County, we don't have a separate literacy program here. I do it all. We do have a Families First instructor and a Family Literacy instructor," Hamm said.
   Johnson County's instructors are certified public school teachers who use the Laubach curriculum as a method of teaching reading. "It's a phonics-based program written for non-readers. We train our tutors with those materials, as well as other materials on hand, and we encourage them to use them," said Hamm, who holds a bachelor's degree in business.
   The Greene County Department of Education's Family Literacy Program is truly in its infancy, having just been started this year and made separate from adult education classes offered through the city school system. Parham said his job title changed this year in order to meet requirements handed down through the 'No Child Left Behind' Act.
   "The title of my job was Parent Involvement Coordinator, and, just recently, at the beginning of this school year, in order to align it with the 'No Child Left Behind Act', it's now Family Literacy Coordinator," said Parham.
   Parham said the goal of the new literacy program will be to get help for parents who need help, as well as their children, through the use of a 21st Century Community Grant between $300,000 to $400,000 that was issued by the federal government to Greene County.
   Parham, who holds a bachelor's degree in Environmental Health and a master's degree in Education, said he spends most of his time testing students who attend the school system's 11 elementary schools and four high schools.
   "We're still in the developmental stages. We've been getting a lot of stuff from the state, and we're trying to clarify those things," he said.