Fighting illiteracy: For woman, reward is in seeing others get help learning to read

Leslie Gelders' reward is in seeing others get the assistance they need to be able to read.
by Bryan Painter Published: November 3, 2013
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When a person approaches a literacy program for assistance, the program does an intake assessment to identify the student's reading level and determine the beginning point of study, Gelders said.

“We also ask if they have ever been told they have a learning disability, or if they were ever placed in special education classes,” she said. “All of this information can help the tutor help the student.

“Not every student will be able to eventually pick up a James Joyce novel, but we believe every student can make strides.”

And Gelders has seen some great strides in the literacy area.

The Literacy Coordinator position used to be a single contract worker, but now there are three people staffing the Literacy Resources Office at the Department of Libraries.

They've branched out into early literacy programs with the Ready to Learn project that puts books in the hands of preschoolers, and they've recently begun a Health Literacy Initiative since there is a direct correlation between low-reading skills and a person's health, she said.

“We've developed great partnerships to help us along the way,” she said. “OETA and the Kruger Foundation help us with Ready to Learn. The state Department of Health co-sponsored our first Health Literacy Summit last fall. We work with DHS to provide training to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) classes.

“The state Legislature has also given great support by providing an annual appropriation that funds grants to local literacy councils to support their services. And we've been fortunate to be able to take advantage of federal grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.”

But even with strides made, the journey is ongoing.

“We have to keep waging this fight because it hasn't gone away,” she said. “Some of the people we work with have been told by friends, family and educators that they'll never be able to read or master particular skills. We're here to say ‘Yes, you can,' and we're here to help.

“That message is as important today as it's ever been.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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