LIFT turn­ing page on il­lit­er­acy

LIFT­ing lit­er­acy

The Dallas Morning News - - METRO - REX C. CURRY/Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

The is­sue of il­lit­er­acy is of dire con­se­quence on both the lo­cal and na­tional scene.

Just last month, a re­port from the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Adult Lit­er­acy stated:

“Ed­u­ca­tion drives the econ­omy. Al­most a decade into the 21st cen­tury, Amer­ica faces a choice: We can in­vest in the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion and skills of our work­force and re­main com­pet­i­tive in to­day’s global econ­omy, or we can con­tinue to over­look glar­ing ev­i­dence of a na­tional cri­sis and move fur­ther down the path to de­cline.”

Call it clair­voy­ance or the de­sire to cre­ate a more per­fect com­mu­nity: As far back as 1960, the Na­tional Coun­cil of Jewish Women’s Greater Dal­las Sec­tion be­gan a project that it la­beled Op­er­a­tion LIFT, or Lit­er­acy In­struc­tion for Texas.

The pres­i­dent at the time was Pat Peiser, who serves on the LIFT board to­day.

The con­cept per­co­lated for a year as the pro­gram be­came re­al­ity.

Sonyia Hartwell, cur­rent ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, re­ports that “for six months, three times each week, The Dal­las Morn­ing News ran half- and quar­ter-page ads with coupons for teach­ers’ and stu­dents’ reg­is­tra­tion. WFAA-TV and KERA-TV agreed to run a TV lit­er­acy teach­ing se­ries at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. five days each week.

“The project be­came a city­wide ef­fort. Classes be­gan on June 5, 1961, with 250 vol­un­teers, 150 from NCJW, and served 600 stu­dents dur­ing the first year.

“NCJW won the very first Dal­las Times Her­ald Club of the Year Award for Op­er­a­tion LIFT in 1961.”

The next year, NCJW turned the pro­gram over to be­come a com­mu­ni­tyspon­sored or­ga­ni­za­tion.

LIFT re­lies on a ded­i­cated force of more than 500 vol­un­teers to teach the 150 adult lit­er­acy and English as a sec­ond lan­guage classes of­fered at 39 sites in Dal­las, Tar­rant and Collin coun­ties, said Les­lie Clay, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

“Vol­un­teers com­mit to teach­ing at least two hours a week for 12 weeks,” Ms. Clay said.

And more than 80 per­cent of them come back each year.

“Many vol­un­teers have been giv­ing their time to LIFT for 10 years or more,” she said.

Ms. Clay said the women of the Ju­nior League of Dal­las are long­time sup­port­ers of LIFT, sup­ply­ing more than 10 vol­un­teers each year.

Mau­reen Milligan is one of those vol­un­teers, she said.

She’s been teach­ing adult lit­er­acy classes for a year — con­tin­u­ing the teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence she be­gan as an ed­u­ca­tor in in­ner-city Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with Teach for Amer­ica.

“For Mau­reen, the most re­ward­ing part of her vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ence is know­ing that she is chang­ing lives,” Ms. Clay said.

High de­mand, re­wards

Each of the five adult learn­ers in Ms. Milligan’s class, which she teaches as a team with Va­lerie Ness, keeps a jour­nal, Ms. Clay said.

“One of the adult learn­ers, who works in the ju­niors de­part­ment of a lo­cal de­part­ment store, wrote in her jour­nal that she wanted to be able to read her Bi­ble and read to her grand­chil­dren,” she said.

“Just a few weeks ago, this adult learner shared with the class the joy she felt when she was able to read along in her Bi­ble with her pas­tor and un­der­stood the pas­sage. She now as­pires to be a writer her­self. Mau­reen’s stu­dents are com­mit­ted to com­plet­ing the course they have be­gun.”

In 1993, LIFT moved to the Wil­son His­toric Dis­trict; 10 years later, it moved to its cur­rent space at 2121 Main St.

Growth in the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants has been phe­nom­e­nal.

Be­tween 2004 and the end of 2007, the num­ber of adult learn­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in LIFT pro­grams in­creased by 292 per­cent, from 2,103 to 6,141, and it con­tin­ues to in­crease.

For the 12-month pe­riod end­ing this past April, LIFT has served 6,317 stu­dents . Of those, 1,418 were in adult lit­er­acy, 4,018 were in English as a sec­ond lan­guage classes, and 881 were en­rolled in fam­ily lit­er­acy pro­grams.

In 2003, LIFT re­ceived a grant from the Bar­bara Bush Foun­da­tion for Fam­ily Lit­er­acy for its fam­ily lit­er­acy pro­grams.

An ex­em­plary record

Ms. Hartwell, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, ex­plained the cri­te­ria LIFT has put in place:

Classes are free and meet for two hours twice a week.

Adult learn­ers com­mit to at­tend­ing ev­ery class, be­ing on time, and call­ing when they must be ab­sent. Poor at­ten­dance may cause par­tic­i­pants to be dropped from class.

Po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants must make an ap­point­ment with LIFT for a screen­ing in­ter­view.

Dur­ing that in­ter­view, staff mem­bers de­ter­mine the read­ing level of the par­tic­i­pant and gather per­ti­nent con­tact and back­ground in­for­ma­tion for the file.

All in­for­ma­tion is con­fi­den­tial.

LIFT asks that stu­dents do­nate the cost of books they want to keep, take home and write in.

Stu­dents may pay weekly or monthly, as they are able. The av­er­age book cost for 2008 is $20.

Ms. Hartwell noted that LIFT’s ex­em­plary record has spread far be­yond its core area of op­er­a­tion.

LIFT staff mem­bers were fea­tured speak­ers in 2005 at the ProLit­er­acy World­wide Con­fer­ence in Tuc­son, Ariz., where they pre­sented the in­no­va­tive and suc­cess­ful Com­mu­nity Part­ner­ship Pro­gram model.

“This model evolved from LIFT’s strate­gic ini­tia­tive to work with com­mu­nity part­ners to es­tab­lish its classes at part­ner sites in ar­eas of the com­mu­nity that are cur­rently un­der­served,” Ms. Hartwell added.

For more in­for­ma­tion about LIFT, its pro­grams, its need for vol­un­teers and ap­ply­ing for par­tic­i­pa­tion in its pro­grams, call Les­lie Clay at 214-824-2000, ext. 230.

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