Illiteracy in Ingham County is a 'huge problem'

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By Whitney Bunn
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

How does literacy in Ingham County stack up?

According to Andrew Falk, not very well.

Falk is an intern for the Capital Area Literacy Coalition (CALC), a nonprofit organization that specializes in promoting literacy growth in the Lansing area.

Falk said that around 35 percent of Lansing citizens are functionally illiterate, meaning they have trouble with basic reading, writing, speaking and computational skills – things like reading a menu or understanding a paycheck.

Most literate adults are unaware of the major problem of illiteracy in the United States, said Falk.

“We have a variety of programs. We encompass all age groups into the literacy bracket because everybody in Lansing basically needs help,” Falk said.

Rebecca Klegon, a senior student in the College of Education at Michigan State University, is completing her pre-internship at Attwood Elementary School in the Lansing School District.

“I think there is a huge literacy problem,” she said.

Working with a sixth-grade class for the 2013-2014 school year, Klegon notes that nearly three-quarters of her students read below the standard reading level for sixth-graders.

Klegon said most of her students come from low-income families. “I don’t feel like they have enough opportunities to read at home,” she said.

Most of her students are embarrassed by their low reading proficiencies, and they lack the motivation to continue to learn how to read. She also said that the schools focus on pushing students to the next grade level without addressing their fundamental needs.

Kathy Johnson, head librarian at the Downtown Lansing branch of the Capital Area District Libraries said that literacy is not just a children’s issue. Johnson said her branch deals with many adult patrons who struggle with literacy.

“There are patrons who only check out DVDs, and I’m sure it’s because their reading skills are not good … and that’s sad because there’s a lot more to life than what’s on those DVDs,” said Johnson.

The Capital Area District Libraries try to offer programs to fit the needs of their wide variety of patrons, including computer and literacy skills.

“I think it’s very tough for people with computer skills and literacy skills to make enough money to live on,” said Johnson. “Nobody can make it on a minimum wage job… it all takes more skills than have ever been required to make a living wage.”

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