Literacy Project celebrates 20 years in Eagle County
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Here you are, reading along, probably with the same level of ease you have swallowing or blinking. Well, for some people, reading doesn’t come so effortlessly, nor does writing, speaking, or any other aspect of the English language, even in an affluent, highly educated community like Eagle County. When this reality came to Colleen Gray’s attention 20 years ago, she formed the Literacy Project.
“It was also the Eagle County School District saying there were parents unable to help their children with their homework because of their literacy skills,” Gray said. “A task force was formed with the library system and a grant was approved. The first year we tutored 20 adult students, now we have more than 400 adults and children in our programs.”
The Project still works one-to-one with adults who want to improve their reading, writing and sometimes math skills. Most students are trying to improve their English in general although not all Literacy Project students are immigrants. The Project conducts one-to-one tutoring programs for middle school children, a family literacy program and a literacy program for children two days a week, all using specific books and materials specific to the program. The Project also runs a Reading on the Go summer program for 11- to 13-year-olds once a week in which students choose a novel and guest teachers lead discussion groups. All programs are free and The Literacy Project trains its volunteers – most of whom are not certified educators – to teach and tutor literacy skills.
Debbie King began volunteering with the Literacy Project about a year and a half ago when her children grew up and she was overcome by an urge “to help other people.”
King tutors 23-year-old Anna, a Battle Mountain High School graduate who has yet to master the English language.
“She’s an amazing example of someone who’s working really hard in everything she does,” King says of Anna. “Her English is still not perfect, but she is very communicative. I think she’s doing extremely well. She still needs some help with tenses of verbs. She can read and speak well, but she is working on her writing skills. She’s saving her money to go to college.”
King and Anna meet once a week for an hour and a half at Colorado Mountain College and go over exercises in the Literacy Project workbook, read articles in the newspaper and, as King says, discuss specific “quirks” in the English language.
“I enjoy it tremendously. She is an inspiration to me,” King says of Anna. “She wants to become a nurse, so she has quite a lofty goal to go through all of that schooling and all of the work that comes with it. I have so many good feelings about her and the time we spend together.”
Rosie McFarland has been studying with The Literacy Project for more than three years. Originally from Colombia, McFarland moved to Eagle County in December of 2006 after living in Florida for several years, where she acquired a decent command of English but seized the opportunity to improve once she moved to the valley and learned about the Project.
“I saw the invitation in the newspaper – an English class at the library – and I was curious,” McFarland said in a phone interview, in which she spoke proficiently, her sentences complex and replete with jokes and idioms. “Even though I could speak a little bit, I had a long way to go. I was able to communicate, but since I started going to the classes, I’m aware of my shortcomings. I’m more confident. Talking to you now, for example, three years ago … this (would) never happen.”
McFarland is very proud of how much her English has improved and says the once-a-week classes at the library have not only provided her with instruction, but also worldly lessons from the other students, who come from a wide variety of countries and cultures.
“Every time I went there it was something new to learn,” she said. “I am very happy to have this opportunity. Going to the class every Tuesday night – being right there is what made the difference for me. I am very proud.”
The Literacy Project is always looking for volunteer tutors. For more information about the programs, visit http://www.literacyprojecteaglecounty.org or call 970-949-5026.