Adult Literacy Center at Drake University Gives People a Second Shot

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Life may have started a long time ago for these students, but they're only just beginning to learn a crucial skill.

"(I) go to the doctor, can't fill out the forms and stuff," said Jerry Schillinger, a student at Drake University's Adult Literacy Center. "Different things...even just going out to eat. I could hardly read the menu, so I always just went to fast food joints."

Schillinger is one of about 80 adults in Polk County learning how to read and write.

"I kept it a secret for quite awhile, until I came here and I learned to start talking more about it," he said.

Schillinger has been coming to the center for the past 10 years; according to him, he's come a long way in that time.

"I couldn't read a three-letter word when I came," he said.

Anne Murr, the director of the center, trains volunteers to teach students like Schillinger.

"One-in-six adults have low literacy skills," she said. "In other words, they can't do the reading and writing to just basically function in their daily life."

Murr says the need for tutors is growing as the center becomes more involved in the community.

"Lots of people fail to read and write in school because they just didn't respond to instruction they were being given," she said. "And it's not that they weren't trying - they just didn't get it."

But studies show it's a lot easier to learn these skills during childhood, through the age of 10. For someone in their mid-forties, it's a challenge far greater than simply crossing your t's and dotting your i's.

"When we first started, he was in his mid-forties, he had never been able to read a card that he bought," said Barbara Corson, a volunteer tutor. "And he said he just bought cards in the grocery store, based on the picture, and he didn't know what the words were. And now he can read the words in the card and pick something that's more meaningful to him, so, that was heart-warming."

The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward, Corson says. As for Schillinger, he's happily turning a new page - with a new lens on life, through literacy.

"Me and my grand-daughter study together," he said. "And she stands right over me, and if I do something wrong, she'll tell me. And we both sit there and do our homework. She's learning, and I'm learning from her."

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