Literate parents key for children
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 17, 2008

Tucson, Arizona | Published:
Opinion by Betty Stauffer
The director of a regional health clinic called Literacy Volunteers of Tucson recently to say that a local nonprofit was supplying books to the children that they treat. However, she feared that some of the books would never be used because many of the parents were not able to read. She was looking for learning options to help these parents.
Adults are often overlooked when the issue of literacy is raised. Yet, adult education is a key to reading success of children, according to education researcher Thomas Sticht. His research has shown that when parents take a class of any kind, their children's classroom performance and test scores improve 100 percent of the time.
Many studies of children's success in school have been done over the years. All have shown that the greatest predictor of a child's school success is the academic achievement of the mother (or primary caregiver).
The fine work being done in early childhood, preschool and in K-12 education needs to be supported and expanded. But if we only work with the children — and forget their parents and grandparents — we are missing a vital key to the academic success of these children.
We must address the whole problem, from preschoolers to grandparents.
While increasing the literacy of children is vital to our economy in the future, adult literacy education supports our economy today.
Businesses in Arizona and around the country report difficulty in finding qualified workers to fill positions. It is projected that 80 percent of jobs being created require some type of post-high school training.
Yet nationally the high school graduation rate is only about 70 percent, and in some parts of Arizona it is less that 50 percent. As Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc., the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, our governor and others work to attract businesses to our area, the educational level of our work force is a barrier that must be addressed.
In July 2007, Pima County lost $505,000 in state funding for adult education. As a result, Literacy Volunteers of Tucson is being asked to do more and more. With the help of Social Venture Partners, several foundations and many generous individuals, we are working to increase our capacity so that we can serve more adult students.
Literacy Volunteers of Tucson trains volunteers to tutor adults who are eager to improve their reading and writing skills and, for immigrants and refugees, their English-speaking skills.
Volunteers take 12 hours of training and are then matched with an adult student or students who can be available at a time and place convenient for all. Tutors and students meet two to four hours a week. Last year, 291 volunteer tutors assisted 411 students to increase their literacy skills. Ninety percent of these students are parents. As laudable as this is, it is a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg.
Just as in education for children, much more needs to be done. At the very least, we must recognize that literacy is not just a children's issue.
Teaching adults to read helps whole family succeed
Literacy Volunteers of Tucson connects adults who need help building reading and writing skills with tutors. They also provide English lessons to immigrants and refugees. Here, in their own words, are comments written by students:
"When you can't do certain things, you build your own walls around you. As an adult you have so many problems, you can't do it on your own. Say you go to a restaurant — you order what is easy, not what you want. I used to be nervous driving because I couldn't read the signs. Now I'm not! Tutoring has helped me with work. Now I talk to my supervisor more and read a lot of books. My family is proud of me. My grandson says 'Come on, Grandma — read this for me!' It makes me feel so good. Without my tutor I wouldn't have gotten so far. She has done so much for me. She's really patient. When I can't meet we have a lesson on the phone. We also write notes to each other. They say if you don't use your mind you lose it— it's true!' ''
Margie Phillips, 45
"I have been given a chance to read and to learn what words mean."
Steven Horstmann, 29
"I speak more English to my doctor, my son's teacher, and employees at the department store. I follow the directions of the doctor. I need more practice, I know."
Edith Gutierrez, 28
"I know my English isn't perfect but I always try. I listened to some TV programs and that helps me to hear the sound of the English language. English will help me to communicate. I had a better vocabulary in Spanish than in English. I will be able to understand some medical vocabulary when I go to the doctor to check on my pregnancy and to explain about the medical history of Maurico, my little kid."
Vera Perez, 31
E-mail Betty Stauffer at For more information, call 882-8006.