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Literacy Program Still Running Strong

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  Imagine going home tonight and not being able to help your children finish their homework. For some adults this is a simple daily chore, but for others it is completely impossible. Literacy Volunteers of Tucson (LVT) is helping to fix this undetected problem in our society.


The U.S. Department of Education revealed that 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate, while 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. Illiteracy is a serious problem with even more serious consequences.

LVT provides two free literacy programs for adults who read at or below the sixth-grade reading level. The first is a Basic Literacy program designed to tutor native English speakers one-on-one. Tutoring is usually a couple times a week for an hour or two. The second program is called English Language Acquisition for Adults (ELAA). This is for adults whose native language is not English. The adults are taught in groups or centers at libraries and schools around the city of Tucson, according to LVT Communications and Volunteer Coordinator Melisa DeNinno.

“We believe all adults deserve the right to be able to speak, read and write English,” says DeNinno.

LVT is known all over Tucson for recruiting and training highly qualified volunteers. This year, over 400 volunteers help out at LVT.

“We have a really, really high retention of our tutors,” says ELAA Program Manager Robert Ojeda. “Over 90 percent of our tutors end up staying beyond a year, two years, three years.”

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of this organization,” DeNinno says.

Karen Kivel is one of over 400 volunteer tutors at LVT. Kivel has over 20 years of experience as an elementary school teacher and currently teaches a couple of beginner ELAA classes: one at Amphi Middle School and one at the LVT main office.freebooks

“LVT just drew me to their program,” says Kivel. “I’ve always worked with second language learners as children but never adults. I wanted to try my hand at it.”

“[The students] come in the rain, they walk, they take the bus. They are so motivated to be there and to learn and to get better at speaking and reading and writing English,” says Kivel. “I see [the students] from the first day they come into class and I just watch them bloom.”

Currently there are 23 ELAA centers, but DeNinno hopes to add another center soon.

“There is a huge need in Tucson, so we could easily double the number of centers where we have classes,” Ojeda said.

Unlike many other programs across Tucson that have had their funding taken away due to statewide budget cuts, LVT is one of the few literacy programs left standing. LVT is able to stay up and running since the organization receives its money mainly from donations.

Since LVT is not state funded, there are no standardized tests and no arbitrary exams. Instead, in order to track the progress each student makes, LVT looks at whether or not the student has registered to vote, read to his or her child, acquired a job, or reached any other personal goals that would adequately show the progress they have made, according to DeNinno.

literacyposterLast year, LVT had a little over 800 students. This year that number has risen to 1700, DeNinno said.

At the school locations, many of the adults who enter into the literacy program are parents of students that attend those schools.

“A child’s success in school depends highly on the parent’s literacy”, DeNinno says. “If the parents can’t be involved, the child’s schooling suffers as a result.”

To help out with those adults that enter into the ELAA program, some schools have offered child care services so adults enrolled in the program have no problem attending.

“All students who want the opportunity to learn, can learn”, DeNinno said.

To learn more about the Literacy Volunteers of Tucson check out this general information flyer.

To check out Robert Ojeda's interview and some other behind-the-scenes footage click here.

Here are the locations of the 23 ELAA centers:

CommunityWalk Map - Literacy Volunteers of Tucson



Written by Christina Stymfal

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