Adult learners often must overcome heartbreak, embarrassment, and hardship to reach their goals and create a life they thought only existed in their dreams.
The issues of low literacy—unemployment, higher crime rates, more poverty, etc.—affect everyone. Organizations like The Literacy Alliance strive to educate low-literate adults through learning centers, literacy programs, and tutoring services. With determination and hard work, these adults become empowered to succeed at work, at home, and throughout their communities.
The Literacy Alliance recently shared the story of Amber, one of its adult learners.
At 17, Amber dropped out of high school frustrated by a curriculum she struggled to understand. Mild learning disabilities left her unable to fully grasp the material, and although she tried to ask for help, Amber’s teachers didn’t have the time or the resources to help her succeed. Over the next few years, she wandered into adulthood with no real goals or sense of purpose.
Eventually, Amber got married and became a mom. Suddenly responsible for someone else, she looked for direction. Without a high school diploma, however, she found herself with limited options until a case worker from Healthy Families Indiana introduced Amber to The Literacy Alliance.
The Literacy Alliance offers free literacy instruction to adults through its learning centers, literacy programs, and tutoring services. The organization’s goal is to help as many adults as possible achieve high school equivalency (HSE). It’s a daunting task. Approximately 30,000 adults in Allen County—about one in nine—do not possess a high school diploma.
The program’s biggest challenge is developing an effective learning strategy for each student’s situation, because most students are also juggling jobs and families. However, offering each student an individualized path for success is also the program’s biggest strength.
“The program has to be flexible,” said Executive Director Mike Landram. “We have great instructional staff and volunteer tutors. They care about students individually and instill confidence.”
In Amber’s case, not only was she challenged with being a new mom, but her daughter’s health issues meant she had to frequently travel to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, which took her away from scheduled class times. “I didn’t want to fall behind. I knew if I missed too many classes, I would be dropped,” she remembers thinking.
To further complicate things, Amber enrolled in a job training program that would offer her long-term work opportunities. The training times conflicted with her HSE classes, which she needed to qualify for the job certification. One element depended on the other, but everything threatened to fall apart because she couldn’t attend both classes at the same time.
Amber asked The Literacy Alliance for help, and she got it.
“With online instruction and individual tutoring to supplement her classes, we created a customized workaround for Amber,” Landram said. “When students have a strong commitment and are goal-oriented, our staff can find alternatives. They have to think outside the box.”
Creative thinking at The Literacy Alliance goes far beyond finding alternative class opportunities. It also means finding ways to teach students that will help them grasp and retain the material. This is especially important for learners whom traditional methods were not successful. Based on her high school experience, Amber was wary of the program at first. She quickly learned that The Literacy Alliance was different.
“I knew by the second class that this was going to help,” Amber said. “Not only did they put a plan together for me, but they actually cared for me as a person. They explained things in a way I could understand, or they kept trying different ways until I did.”
Landram said the program assesses each student’s learning style to find their strengths.
Amber, who had an individual education plan (IEP) in high school, not only passed the HSE exam with high scores on her first try, she also did it with no special accommodations. Now she is looking forward to completing her Patient Access Registration certification through Work One, finding a full-time job, and someday attending college. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without The Literacy Alliance,” she said.
With more than 70 volunteers and 16 paid staff members, The Literacy Alliance operates six HSE instruction sites in the Fort Wayne area, as well as pre-HSE sites at the Allen County Public Library, the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, and its headquarters at The Summit. For adults struggling with reading, the organization also offers individualized tutoring. The Literacy Alliance has served more than 10,000 students since 1988, helping them open doors through literacy.
“You just don’t know who’s affected,” Landram said. “I wish more citizens would become aware of how we can help.”
No one agrees more than Amber. “It gets me emotional just talking about The Literacy Alliance,” she said. “It has changed my life.”