What Now?

| May 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

Literacy, of Course!

Entertainers read to guests of the evening.

Thursday, May 18 is the date, for the San Diego Council on Literacy’s (SDCOL) 8th Annual “Eat. Drink. Read. A Culinary Event for Literacy, ” in which our local chefs’ create an original dish that corresponds to their favorite books. CEO Jose Cruz never lets up on his mission: to raise the level of literacy throughout our county.

LW: What is the illiteracy situation in our county today? What are the steps/initiatives/programs that SDCOL implements to foster progress?

JC: San Diego County is not that much different from the rest of the country when it comes to the percentage of individuals who are affected by low-level literacy skills: 20 percent.

Oddly enough, the percentage of children who are not reading at grade level by age 3 to 4 is similar to percentages for adults. However, in some communities, 35 to 40 percent of adults are only reading at about the 4th to 5th grade level. Of course, when parents don’t read well, the odds are pretty good that their children will not receive the help that they need to emerge as readers. Because of their own reading skills, some adults are not able to read to their children, or play word and song games, or engage in language building activities that children need to improve as readers and thinkers.

Now, the San Diego Council on Literacy is teaming up with a group of non-literacy service groups to gain their support in addressing fundamental family stability issues that interfere with learning. We know that we need more than literacy instruction to break cycles of dependence and dysfunctions. With other health and human service partners, we can help families deal with food, shelter, childcare, and mental health issues that affect quality of life and success in school.

By working with our partners in targeted low-income communities, we can make real change happen. We are bringing more attention to the need for children’s books at home. The research shows that 60 percent of low-income children have no books at home. How are these children supposed to achieve in the same way as their more affluent peers? Here, we have an easy gap to fill. People can help by donating new or like-new books.

LW: Are there any specific communities and/or ethnic groups in which illiteracy seems to be a particular social issue? If so, can you elaborate on the seeming causes?

JC: Illiteracy is cyclical; it runs in families with generations of adults who never learned to read and who were never able to help their own children read. While there are low-income children being raised by adults – or in families – who do not read well but whose children succeed in school, statistically, the odds are against these children. With family stability, we support education. With education, we support employability. With employability, we support prosperity – or some degree of it. And with this prosperity, we reinforce more family stability.

Latinos represent the ethnic group with the lowest level of literacy. The problem is not so much a difference in first languages. The problem is the total package of socio-economics…basic resources that are lacking and that affect family living to the extent that education does not happen, that children miss too much school due to chronic illnesses or come to school hungry or do not have books at home or do not have someone to read to them or never develop the habit that some families have where going to the library is a regular activity. Family stability, language development, critical thinking and reading at home are the foundations for learning. Where these are lacking, all populations are vulnerable.

LW: Do you find any connection between illiteracy and crime?

JC: Yes. 33 percent of inmates in state and federal institutions read at the lowest level of literacy. A total of 70 percent of inmates in state and federal institutions are low-literate or only marginally literate. More astounding is that, when inmates engage in educational activities, the likelihood of them returning to prison is decreased significantly, by up to 35 percent. What does that tell you?

LW: Are our schools effectively teaching reading, writing? What role can parents play in conjunction with schools?

JC: Schools know how to teach reading. We would like to see them more prepared to address the basic reading skill needs of students who did not learn by the ages of eight or nine. The odds are three to one that these students will ever catch up. We need to help our schools secure the resources that they need, so that no child leaves elementary school without reading at the fourth grade level or better. Also, again, what happens at home affects what happens in schools. In low-income communities, where basic needs are an issues, teachers are asked to address whatever a child brings to school in the way of emotional and physical needs. It’s a bit much for everyone! This is why working in partnerships, in smaller, targeted. low-income communities, makes sense.

LW: You have been at the helm of “literacy” here for 32 years. What motivates you to keep at it? What have been your greatest challenges? The best – or worst – changes in the status of literacy? With each generation, or influx of immigrants, do you have to begin all over again?

JC: I am a giver, bordering on being a co-dependent! So, it means a lot to me to help others help themselves. When you see people, especially adults, come forward and say, “I want to learn to read,” or, “I want to read better because of my children,” it gives me, us, an opportunity to make change happen in a way that is exciting and life changing. What can be better than that? Reading is vital to success in school, in families, and in careers. Without it, people are trapped in under-achievement and quite often never gain the opportunity to live up to their potential. Life is precious. We should all have the opportunity to succeed at it. In today’s world, reading is more important than ever.

I don’t like to think in terms of “starting over.” Our message is that it’s never too late to learn. We all have our own starting place and we should accommodate people from where they are in their lives.

My greatest challenge has been the ongoing need to communicate to funders and other agencies the role that literacy plays as a solution – and the role that illiteracy plays in our social challenges. Too often, we become distracted by symptoms that look like problems…when they are not. We need to go to the sources of our problems. Illiteracy is one of the root causes for what is ailing so many individuals and families.

LW: What are SDCOL’s most promising programs?

JC: Our creative collaboration is the key.

LW: “Eat.Drink.Read.” – – the price is right, the cause is just! What can attendees expect this year?

JC: We have added a few new twists to this year’s event. We have a contest for chefs and some incredible silent auction items. The whole of the Air & Space Museum as our event site is a good one – it will be open to attendees. Guests will love the live music and the variety of food and drink that they can try. All funds raised will support our services, our work. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot of new people on May 18. It’s going to be a good time!

Tickets to the Thursday, May 18 San Diego Council on Literacy’s 8th Annual “Eat. Drink. Read. A Culinary Event for Literacy takes place at the Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park. Tickets are $75 per person. For more information, visit http://www.literacysandiego.org/eatdrinkread/.

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