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Volunteers at Bridgerland Literacy help adults learn to read

December 2nd, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Cassidee Cline

LOGAN–Time and again people talk about how things in life are taken for granted. The ability to do simple tasks may be very difficult to some people and very few people notice how fortunate they are.

According to an estimate made in 2004 by the National Center for Family Literacy, 9 percent of all adults in Cache Valley are functionally illiterate. A group of Cache Valley residents are trying to lower that statistic through providing free tutoring to help these individuals.

Bridgerland Literacy has served Cache Valley for 22 years. Cindy Yurth started the project in Richmond with a box of books and a handful of volunteers. Now Bridgerland Literacy is able to cater to as many students as their number of volunteers allow.

“What we do is work with adults who are functionally illiterate,” director Danielle Bird said. “What that means is they are unable to use reading and writing in everyday life.”

Bird has been director at Bridgerland Literacy for the past two years. She said it is a program that provides curriculum to meet students’ needs and goals. “We want to help them achieve a reading level that’s going to help them to do the things they need to in every day life,” she said.

As far as students go, Bird said they tutor students from second grade to age 67. The program is mostly geared towards adults, but they will take children if they are at least a year behind in school. “We work very hard to not provide duplicate services with other agencies,” Bird said.

Bridgerland Literacy offers many free services that include one-on-one tutoring for reading and writing, GED classes and basic computer literacy. They also offer a conversation class for adults where English is their second language to help them practice using English in everyday life situations.

“I’ve always been an avid reader and it was really difficult at first to wrap my mind around someone who’s 40 years old and they can’t read,” Bird said. “We have some of our adult students who are at a pre-kindergarten level just being able to recognize letters and put letters together.”

Bird said many of the adult who are functionally illiterate have a hard time distinguishing the sounds in a word. “That’s most often the reason why people fall through the cracks and become adults without reading abilities,” Bird said.

The different programs used help many of the students retrain their brain to recognize these sounds and make connection with the letters. “We try to target any kind of learning disability they would have,” she said.

Volunteers conduct all the different programs and tutoring sessions available, , Bird said. Tutors can be anywhere between 14-75 years of age, and after being recruited they are trained and paired with a student. Each pair meets twice a week for an hour each session.

In order for a student to be paired with a tutor, both must undergo interviews with the literacy coordinator, Cari Shakespear. Bird said Shakespear works hard to make the best matches possible.

Shakespear said she gets to know the students and the tutors to find out what two would work best together. She said she matches the student’s goals with the tutor’s teaching strengths and also examines each person’s schedule availability to find when each pair could meet. Both the students and the tutors schedules are respected, she said.

“I fell in love with the people and the students because they have such a need and they come in here to learn,” Shakespear said. “They’re so humble you want to give them the world.”

Bird said one of their main goals is to protect their students, so before tutors can begin helping students they are required to go through six hours of training and also a criminal background check.

Even though volunteers must go through a rigorous crash-course in tutoring, Bird said Bridgerland Literacy would have a hard time functioning without them.

“I think the people that volunteer are so wonderful and what they do is so fantastic,” Bird said. “They’re always so willing to give up their time and we would love to have more of them.” Many volunteers, Bird said, come from Utah State University when school starts up in the fall.

“I think there are mixed reasons why students come in here,” Shakespear said. “They come in because they want to volunteer and gain experience or because it’s a homework assignment. I think both of them end up loving it and loving their student more than they thought they could.”

Shakespear said a lot of majors at the university could benefit from volunteering at Bridgerland Literacy including Family Consumer and Human Development, Psychology, Education and Social Work.

Bird said currently the program has about 46 volunteers, 40 students being tutored and about 20 students waiting for a tutor. Bird said they are always looking for more tutors, but she is grateful for the amount of people who come in and help. Even more so, she said she thinks the amount of people who come in asking for help is amazing.

“I am always so impressed that [students] did come in here and say ‘I need this help’,” Bird said. “I know that has to be hard and embarrassing for them but I don’t think that they should feel ashamed at all.”

Both Bird and Shakespear expanded on how important reading is in every day life. From balancing a checkbook to reading a prescription label, it’s hard to go day to day without being able to read, sometimes vital, information.

“I think that is so gratifying and that is the best reason to be here is to see people reach their goals and their success,” Bird said. After experiencing being homeless and being in a battered shelter she said she wanted to be one of those people that’s helps others move forward.

One student they mentioned worked with a tutor at Bridgerland Literacy for five years and, last summer, qualified to be a teacher in India. Another gentleman worked four years with a tutor and had two things he wrote published in national magazines last year.

Bird and Shakespear said the different programs are made around the students. The students set their goals and the tutors work to help them accomplish those goals.

Bridgerland Literacy is a non-profit organization geared to help as many people in the Cache Valley area as possible. Their funding, Bird said, comes from grants, donations and fundraisers.

One fundraiser she said they look forward to is the Scrabble Scramble. The 5th annual Scrabble Scramble will be held at the Utah State University Sky Room Jan. 29. Three person teams pay a fee of $50 to play against other teams that register. Two people from each team play timed rounds with one person from either team keeping score.

Bird explained how each round of the Scrabble Scramble is 45 minutes long with 20 minutes given to each team. The player places a word on the board and stops the timer to allow the next player to go. Once a round is finished, scores from each team determines their next match.

It’s not all about competition either, Bird explained. Every year they sell tickets for $10 to allow anyone to come and watch. They set up giant Scrabble boards where spectators can buy letters and play on those boards to win prizes. Letters vary in price, Bird said. There is also a silent auction where people can bid on items that were donated for the event, she said.

Bird said people in Cache Valley sponsor many of the teams who sign up to compete including Mayor Watts of Logan, Starbucks and a few others. These teams are given a packet with lett ers for the giant Scrabble boards to sell to spectators. Bird said teams aren’t required to sell the letters, but they encourage teams to raise at least $300 to help Brdigerland Literacy reach their 10K goal.

“We really have had a lot of great support in the community for this,” Bird said. Reaching the 10K, she said, will help Bridgerland Literacy double their services. Bird said more information is available through the University Inn and through Bridgerland Literacy.

Bridgerland Literacy is located in the Logan Library, 255 N. Main. They are open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.


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  1. One Response to “Volunteers at Bridgerland Literacy help adults learn to read”

  2. By Cari Shakespear on Dec 3, 2009

    The same day that Danielle and I were interviewed for this article we found out we were officially Nationally Accredited (through the ProLiteracy organization)!

    We actually found out during the interview. It was quite exciting! The hard work and preparation paid off.

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