Learning to Read at 20 –A Literacy Success Story

It was July of 2015 when Jesse Berry-McKinnon first walked into the St. James Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) classroom. He was 20 years old at the time, and he had been unsuccessfully homeschooled.

“He told me that he could barely write letters and numbers and he couldn’t read. He could only write part of his name, but he didn’t know his address, much less how to write it,” said Berry-McKinnon’s instructor Kathy Amsinger.

Berry-McKinnon is unlike most who attend AEL, who need the services simply for review. Berry-McKinnon was being properly taught for the first time with the help of his classroom tutor, Karen Middleton. He had yet to earn his high school diploma.

“With tears welling in his eyes, he told me he was here to learn to read and write so people wouldn’t ever call him stupid anymore,” Amsinger said.

Much like Berry-McKinnon, about 12 percent of Missouri’s population ages 25 and older have less than a high school diploma, or nearly 730,000 people.

“This problem very much exists in Missouri’s East Central College service area,” said AEL Director Alice Whalen. “Franklin County has nearly 13,500 adults who do not have a high school education. Gasconade is close to 2,500, Phelps hovers around 5,600 and Warren has nearly 5,200 people without a high school diploma or High School Equivalency (HSE) Certificate.”

AEL exists to give their students the opportunity to earn their HSE. It also gives students a chance to learn English as a second language.

The importance behind attending AEL classes is not in the numbers, but in the long-term outcome of finishing a high school education. These achievements give way to a chance for people to get their dream job or just a better paying job. The more education an individual has, the more money they can expect to earn. Those with less than a high school education can expect to earn a $17,528 salary, those with an HSE can expect $24,315 and those with an Associate’s degree can expect $38,342.

“Increased education can have a large economic impact for an individual, but also for a community,” said Whalen, “Increased wages impact poverty rates, welfare participation, unemployment, healthcare costs, prison recidivism and tax revenues at both the state and national level.”

Now, just a year and a half later, Berry-McKinnon has made noticeable improvements and was tested near a fourth-grade reading level.

“If this program wasn’t available, he would most likely spend the rest of his life in poverty and ignorance” Amsinger said, “I believe, based upon his determination to follow through on this venture, that he will be a very successful young man.”

Classes are offered during the day in Rolla, Gerald, Sullivan, Union and Washington. Evening classes are offered in Pacific, Union, St. Clair, Washington, Cuba, Hermann, Owensville, Rolla and St. James.

“Adult Education and Literacy Programs are trying to make a difference in the lives of these students,” said Whalen. “It’s amazing to see how immigrants are learning English and gaining the skills to become productive United States citizens. It’s inspiring to watch a tutor helping a student sound out new words. AEL graduation day is the best day of the year.”

Registration for both the Adult Education classes and the English learning classes is free and goes on year-round. For more information about the dates and times of these classes, call 636-584-6533 or visit www.eastcentral.edu/ael/.

Literacy Council Partners for “Big Read”

East Central College, Scenic Regional Library, Washington Public Library, East Central Area Literacy Council, and several other local businesses and organizations are partnering to apply for a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant in January 2019.

The NEA awards about 75 Big Read grants to communities across the country each year. The objective of the Big Read is to get as many people as possible in a community reading and discussing the same book. The grants—which range between $5,000 and $15,000—provide funds for a community-wide read which includes a kick-off event, programming around the theme of the novel, and book discussion groups about the novel. The month-long event culminates with a visit by the author. The author visit would be incorporated into East Central College’s speaker series. The local Big Read event would take place in the fall of 2019. The grant would also provide funds to purchase over 1,000 paperback copies of the novel for check-out and distribution. The committee will work with local high schools and encourage them to incorporate the novel selected into their English classes’ curriculum.

The NEA provides a list of 32 books from which applicants for the grant can choose. The local Big Read committee has narrowed the list down to three titles. The three finalists for the community read are Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The partner-organizations decided to have the public make the final selection. The vote will take place during National Library Week, April 9 through 14. Individuals can pick up and submit a paper ballot at any Big Read partner location. They can also complete the ballot online by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BigRead2019.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favorite child and middle daughter of Marilyn and James Lee, a Chinese American couple living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue.  When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. Each family member deals with Lydia’s death in a different way but it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.  A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You explores the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovers the ways that families struggle, throughout their lives, to understand each other.

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who left the family to work in the United States. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn’t the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village—they’ve all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over. Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman’s quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

After a devastating flu pandemic changes civilization as we know it, Kirsten Raymonde and a small troupe of actors and musicians travel between settlements, dedicated to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive.  They call themselves The Traveling Symphony. When they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence.  And as the dystopian story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

For more information about the NEA’s Big Read grants, visit www.arts.gov/partnerships/nea-big-read