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Thu., Sep. 3
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Literacy center seeks volunteers


POTSDAM — Some people who come to Literacy of Northern New York want to be able to get their G.E.D., while others just want to read to their children. Some come from places like China, Korea or the Middle East, looking to better their grasp of English to help them in their new lives in America.

LNNY’s St. Lawrence office in Potsdam has a group of about 50 volunteer tutors who help about 60 pupils accomplish these goals, and it is currently looking to recruit more.

“Tutors come and go,” said Barbara “Bobby” K. Gordon, coordinator of LNNY’s St. Lawrence County office. “We’re always losing some tutors and we always need to replace them.”

Volunteers participate in a 6-week training session, meeting once a week to learn the best way to teach literacy. These sessions are held two or three times a year, with the next starting on September 22.

This fall’s session will be the first year using a training system that has been newly adopted statewide. LNNY’s trainers travelled to Syracuse in November to learn how to use the system to teach their volunteers.

English is a second language for about half of LNNY’s students, all of whom are 16 or older and out of school.

Jutta G. Fitzsimons has been teaching literacy skills to speakers of other languages since 1980. She is currently working with four pupils, a woman from China, a couple from South Korea, and a woman who fled religious persecution in Eritrea.

“When you teach someone from another country, you learn so much,” Mrs. Fitzsimons said. “Every day you learn something new about the world.”

The rest of the center’s pupils are adult English-speakers looking to increase their literacy skills.

According to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the most recent data available, 13 percent of St. Lawrence County residents lack basic literacy skills. The specifics vary from person to person.Someone who lacks basic literacy skills may not be able to read at all, or they may only be able to identify short, common phrases.

It’s tough to tell how much these numbers have changed in the last nine years, but demand for LNNY’s services has not let up according to Mrs. Gordon.

“Many of the people who need help aren’t forthcoming,” she said.“We couldn’t really give accurate information, I just see people coming and coming and coming.”

LNNY’s tutors are located around the county, to be able to help people in their home area. The skills they teach vary widely based on the needs of their pupils.

“We want to get people where they want to be,” Mrs. Gordon said.“A person who has a personal goal of reading to their child has very different personal needs than a person looking to pass a GED test.”

Sometimes the most basic training teaches pupils to recognize important words like “danger” and “poison” on sight.

No matter what the skill level, teaching others to read can be rewarding, Mrs. Gordon said. Progress is often slow, but the boost it provides to pupil’s self-image can make it all worthwhile.

“They suddenly realize ‘I’m not stupid, I can learn things.’” Mrs. Gordon said. “They try things they wouldn’t ever try before.”

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