For this week’s Hometown Heroes, AY About You features Literacy Action of Central Arkansas.
In Pulaski County, the low literacy rate, which indicates the number of people who cannot read beyond a 6th grade level, is 21%. Low literacy affects nearly every aspect of someone’s life, from finding a job to navigating the health care system, and the nonprofit organization Literacy Action of Central Arkansas (LACA) works to improve literacy by providing free instruction to hundreds of students in Pulaski, Faulkner and Saline counties.
LACA has two types of classes. The first is Adult Basic Literacy, or ABL, which is designed for adults who read below an 8th grade level. The other program is for English as a Second Language, or ESL, and these classes are designed for non-native speakers of English. Tutoring either occurs one-on-one between student and tutors, or in a classroom setting. Although LACA provides curriculum and materials, they also encourage tutors to tailor their lessons to what the students need.
“We personalize their tutoring to what they need, like literacy in the workplace and workforce training. For a lot of people in our programs, they have seen the worst workforce environment of their life this year,” executive director Marci Robertson says. “We have a lot of different curriculums, and our tutors help with tailoring job applications and doing mock interviews.”
Tutors often focus on health and financial literacy to help students feel more confident navigating every part of their lives. Students also use their tutoring sessions to prepare for specific tests, such as the GED or the American citizenship test. They have even helped ESL students prepare for PhD programs.
LACA’s programs, like most schools and colleges, have been mainly online since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tutors have used every possible resource to stay in contact with students, from Zoom to Skype to simply talking over the phone. Attendance with their ESL program has stayed consistent since going online, which Robertson believes is due to students being generally younger and more tech-savvy. About 84% of LACA’s current students are enrolled in their ESL classes. The ABL program, which is mainly one-on-one tutoring, has seen a sharper decline in attendance since the beginning of the year.
LACA’s headquarters is located in the Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Library downtown, and Robertson says they have recently provided a space for tutors to begin meeting in person again. They provide both face shields and masks for visitors, and the space must be reserved in advance. As the CALS system cautiously reopens, they hope that more students and tutors will be able to meet and continue learning.
Tutors are crucial to LACA’s mission, and nearly every tutor is a volunteer who is passionate about improving literacy in central Arkansas. Robertson explains that most people joined the nonprofit because they know how much reading has improved their own lives.
“Most of us [at Literacy Action] remember what sparked our interest in reading and in books,” says Robertson. “I can’t imagine not having reading in my life.”