By some estimates one in four Oaklanders is hampered by a serious lack of English literacy skills; but Oakland Library’s Second Start Program has been tackling that problem since 1984 and you can help. On Saturday April 16th, the Second Start crew will be holding a neighborhood outreach event at the beautiful new 81st Avenue Library with a day of tutor and student recruitment.
Why is this program, funded by Measure Q, so important now? A recent study just released by Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) compares literacy rates by state. California, once a state with a renowned K-12 and public university system, now has no city which can be ranked in the top ten most literate cities in the country.
San Francisco was close, coming in at No. 12 but down from its former ranking as No. 5. Oakland ranked No. 35, far down the list but light years ahead of Bakersfield which was close to the bottom.
What does being literate mean? The definitions change over time. According to the Oakland Library’s Second Start Coordinator, Amy Prevedel, in the 1940’s, being able to sign your name to a document would rate you as passing literate. Now even those ranked as literate would have trouble deciphering the average newspaper op-ed.
We’re talking about being able to read the instructions on your medications bottle or comprehending updated instructions on the job much less helping your child with her homework. As we all know, work and civic life is becoming more and more specialized; and, as Amy Prevedel says, “the hoops get smaller and smaller and higher and higher to jump through” to succeed on any but the lowest socioeconomic level.
It’s been reported that 40% of those who enter Oakland’s public schools do not graduate from them. That may even be an underestimate. In previous years many former drop-outs were able to return and receive either a diploma, a GED, or just increase their basic skills-for free.
Last year Oakland Unified School District closed down most of its Adult Ed program and, where 14,000 students once attended, a few hundred are now served. Many of the previous attendees were in English as a Second Language classes. Those classes have been completely eliminated while some “credit recovery” classes for independent high school study and a number of GED programs are limping along waiting for the next budget axe to fall.
As more and more basic adult education programs shrink or disappear, Second Start prevails by using volunteer tutors and operating with individualized learning plans. The program prepares volunteers to teacher through a one-on-one relationship with any willing adult with sufficient English speaking skills who has access to a local library.
The program is free and the classes are offered in confidentiality. One of the factors that may prevent adults from obtaining help is the shame that sometimes accompanies their lack of skills in reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Many adults learn coping mechanisms to prevent employers, neighbors, and even family members from discovering their deficiencies; but even with these coping skills, they find their opportunities severely limited.
Second Start, guaranteed by 2004’s Measure Q- about $75 a homeowner- has a part-time coordinator and is located at the West Oakland branch library at 1801 Adeline Street. It is slated to move into the Main Library downtown this year. Regardless of where the program is housed, it remains mobile and adaptable.
A prospective student or volunteer tutor need only call (510) 238-3432 to sign up for a student orientation or tutor training schedule. The program will try and partner the student with a tutor at his or her branch library and bring the intake process to them.
Tutors are required to complete an eighteen-hour training with classes taking place over four successive Saturdays. This training will give tutors the skills they need to work with students who are just beginning their learning careers-whatever their age.
The Saturday, April 16th event will start at 10 AM with coffee, donuts, and introductions. Then the group will head outside where they will hold up signs and banners designed to attract neighborhood curiosity about the program before going door-to-door to leaflet the community with information. Back in the library, new volunteer tutors will-hopefully-be signed up for the next training which begins on the last Saturday of April.
Call Amy Prevedel at (510) 238-3432 or visit the 2nd Start website, http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/services/secondstart/index.html for more information on Second Start.