Whether it’s figuring out a prescription, understanding labels at the grocery store or making sense of signs along the road, reading is a basic skill that’s needed to thrive and sometimes survive.
Yet, there are many who still find themselves challenged in the world because they are unable to read or write at a functional level.
But there are those willing to roll up their sleeves and help people learn to read and write.
Susan Hackney is one of those who is taking the lead in helping boost literacy in Northwest Georgia.
Hackney, vice president of adult education at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, said in the 2000 Census, those who were 25 or older without high school diplomas in Floyd County accounted for 28.5 percent of the population. The county’s literacy rate was at 71.5 percent, according to the census.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, completed in 2003 through the National Center for Education Statistics under the U.S. Department of Education, found that one in every five Americans fell into the category of the lowest levels of literacy, according to Hackney.
“That means they can’t read or write with sufficient skill to function optimally in today’s society,” Hackney said. “That’s around 93 million people operating in the lowest levels.”
The survey, completed every 10 years, is the most comprehensive data on the subject of literacy, Hackney said.
And in Georgia, the state’s goal of giving out 40,000 GED diplomas every year isn’t anywhere near achievable yet, according to Hackney.
She said during the past four years alone in Floyd County at Georgia Northwestern’s GED program, 1,079 students have completed the program and graduated. The numbers have slowly increased from 241 in the 2007 fiscal year, 279 in 2008 and 300 for the 2009 fiscal year at the college.
“We have a long way to go to reach any kind of equilibrium to the high school dropout rate and the number of the public with a high school diploma,” Hackney said.
It’s not all bad news.
Programs such as those at the Language and Literacy Center, located at the Rome-Floyd County Library, provide people with the opportunity to learn to read and write no matter their level of education.
“The language and literacy program was specifically initiated for English language services for the non-English speaking population and to tutor people who have reading problems,” Hackney said.
But the Language and Literacy Center is just one cog in the wheel of raising the literacy rate throughout the county. Programs run by Georgia Northwestern include the Rome campus Adult Learning Center and the North Floyd Adult Learning Center at Glenwood Primary School in conjunction with Floyd County Schools. Hackney also said testing for the GED, done here at the Rome campus, can also be completed at the Rockmart and Calhoun campuses of Georgia Northwestern.
Barbara Raybon, volunteer coordinator for the Language and Literacy Center, said those who wish to learn are always welcome at the center.
“You can learn in an environment here that is so supportive, positive and encouraging,” Raybon said. “A lot of laughter goes on in this place. Learning is fun, and it doesn’t have to be painful.”
But for some who feel the sting of pride when it comes to not having the reading or writing skills they desire, Raybon said new students sometimes need encouragement from a friend or family member.
“If it makes the person more comfortable to come up here with you, then by all means do it,” she said. “We’ll take it from there.”
New technology in the center is a key part to helping people improve their skills, especially in English. In the dual role of helping people achieve literacy and to learn English as a second language, learning software is part of classes and personal tutoring done in the center. But more software, more computers and most of all more tutors and teachers are needed to continue to work toward achieving higher levels of literacy in Floyd County.
“I would like to have tutors waiting in reserve so when I pick up the phone I could have a tutor who could be matched with a student the day they come in,” Raybon said.
Despite all of the work being done to help, Hackney said the achievement of a 100-percent literacy rate in Floyd County will likely never happen but not because people aren’t trying.
“There will always be that small kernel of the population with learning disabilities and those kind of learning differences that keep them from being able to achieve,” Hackney said.
“People come here for the simplest of reasons,” Raybon said. “They come so they can learn how to take a phone message for their wife, or to learn how to read the Bible or to learn to read road signs so they can get their driver’s license. They’re improving their literacy.”