Share what you have

September 20, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Lin Clayberg and Marvin huddle over a table in the corner of a warm children's classroom at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Marvin methodically, deliberately, reads from a notebook. When he's done, Clayberg gently corrects her student on his grammar and the spelling of words like 'myself' and 'tower.'

It is a repetitive process, littered with stops and starts.

But they plow forward through the first few minutes of the duo's weekly tutoring session. For two years, Clayberg has helped Marvin, 55, learn his ABCs.

"One day I can read anything. The next day I can't read anything. Am I losing what I learned? I know that's not true," says Marvin, who prefers not to share his last name. "Oh yeah, I get frustrated all the time but not as much as I used to. I'm picking up books now that I never used to."


Working with various tutors for four years, Marvin is one of more than 70 local adults benefiting from the work of the Literacy Council of Washington County.

With the lofty goal of eradicating adult illiteracy, the council's volunteer tutors - 68 in all - meet students in homes or more often neutral settings where for an hour or two they take the small, painstaking steps on the path of learning to read.

But with between 15 percent and 17 percent of adults nationwide unable to read at a fifth grade level (equal to reading the newspaper or most magazines), more volunteers are always needed. The council has a list of 15 people waiting for tutors, who often aren't paired with more than one pupil for fear of tasking them too hard.

Next month, the council will sponsor a two-weekend training course designed to equip tutors in basic literacy and English as a second language. Twenty-three volunteers have already registered for the class, but council administrator Bill Price is always eager for more.

"I'm giving people the opportunity to share something that they have," he says. "And I haven't talked to a tutor who hasn't been pleased - some have problems, yes - who say 'I've learned so much more than I've given.'"

Listening to former First Lady Barbara Bush stump for literacy in the late '80s, Clayberg was intrigued by the prospect of tutoring but did nothing about it for several years, until a training course was held in her church.

Like Marvin, her only regret is not starting sooner.

Wishing she had begun sooner, when her children were in college, Clayberg is working to make up for lost time. On this day, a morning session with Marvin will be followed by a trip to Roxbury Correctional Institution where she has recently begun tutoring three more students.

The beauty of volunteering for the literacy council, however, is it requires little more than the hour or two a week spent with the student.

"If more people volunteered a couple of hours of their time each week we could make a real dent in this problem," Clayberg says. "I think it's extraordinary that so many citizens who go to school for one reason or another get out and don't have this basic skill."

In Marvin's case, played out more than 35 years ago, the reason formal schooling failed is simple.

"I graduated, but the teachers all told me, 'Sit back there, don't interrupt anything and you'll pass,'" he recalls. "And that was fine with me."

Fine, that is, until he realized there was more to life than skating by, staring at a mishmash of indecipherable letters.

So it is with most adults who come to the literacy council for help.

Price ticks off several stories, men and women who wanted to read because they couldn't clip coupons for the grocery store. Or they wanted to open their own business but couldn't because of an inability to negotiate the accompanying avalanche of paperwork.

Or because they wanted more than anything to be able to read to their grandchildren and couldn't.

"It helps them to accomplish a task; that's always self-satisfying," Price says. "If a person has the courage to admit they can't read, that's a big step. When a person does that it's half the battle and that person will succeed."

When he was a younger man, Marvin would not leave Hagerstown because he could not read street signs and would get lost.

On those rare occasions he did venture beyond city limits, he relied on landmarks to guide his way.

Suffice it to say, Marvin has become a travelin' man in recent years. Ocean City, Md., is a favorite destination. So is Baltimore.

"Oh, my, it's opened up so many doors to me. You wouldn't believe," Marvin says. "It's a whole new world with reading," Marvin says. "It's amazing what I think is a big word is a small word. It's fascinating."

In-service luncheon for current and prospective literacy tutors, with author Deborah Heinecker

Saturday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Trinity Lutheran Church

Corner of North Potomac Street and Randolph Avenue


Pre-registration required by Monday, Sept. 23.

Basic literacy and English as a second language tutor training workshop

Part I: Saturday, Oct. 12; Part II: Saturday, Oct. 19

8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Trinity Lutheran Church

For information or to register for either event, call 301-739-4208.

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