Bataan Hall

The Literacy Center

By Bill Knief

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Literacy, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is a basic human right for children and adults, not a luxury reserved for those who can afford it. The Literacy Center (TLC) having just celebrated its new location on October 10 in the TCEDC complex on Salazar Road, aims to put this idea into practice right here in Taos.

And along with literacy and life skills, The Literacy Center offers GED preparation and testing, and classes in English as a Second Language.

And the programs are available to anyone 16 years of age through eighty or even older.

And it’s all free.

According to Judy Hofer, director of TLC, this is accomplished through a complex network of federal, state and local grants, reinforced by generous donations and volunteer support from the community.

“We operate under the umbrella of UNM which pays for our new facilities here at TCEDC,” she explained. “Just this past summer UNM-Taos created the Academy of Literacy and Cultural Studies emphasizing UNM’s commitment to developing the essential skills of all adults in the community, not just those who are college ready. State and federal grants are a key factor in our budget, of course, but we also benefit from local entities such as the Taos Community Foundation. This year, for the first time, the mayor and council of the Town of Taos set aside $10,000.00 to support our program, and we are especially proud of that.”

But providing these services free of charge doesn’t come easy, and The Literacy Center finds itself constantly in need of donor support. To sustain programming just through the end of the current fiscal year alone, they will need to raise an additional $17,000.00 over the next few months. The payoff in human terms for these programs, however, is incalculable.

“We bridge the gap between community needs and traditional schooling,” Hofer explained. “We overwhelmingly serve community members at the lowest academic level. We are the alternative—another pathway—for adults whose math, reading, writing or English speaking skills are below college level, whether or not they have a high school diploma. It’s as simple as that. But under that guideline we are able to offer regular classes, one-on-one tutoring, life skills instruction—how to fill out a job application, that sort of thing—GED prep in English as well as Spanish—that’s especially important—and English as a Second Language. We tailor our classes to individual needs.”

But Hofer wanted to be very clear on one point. The Literacy Center does not encourage high school students to consider GED as the easy way out of high school.

“There is no comparison between the high school experience and GED preparation. We typically offer students between four and eight hours of instruction per week; that can in no way compare to the intensity and richness of high school course work. In fact the first thing we do is find out why the high school path hasn’t worked, and see if there might be some way to get a student back into the public school system.

“At the same time, many of our students are well beyond high school age. We see our program as offering an alternative so that youth and adults are not left behind when formal schooling is no longer an option.

“Another misperception is that obtaining a GED is easy. It is not. Nationally, 40% of high school graduates cannot pass a GED exam.”

The Literacy Center has seen steady growth, with a marked increase in the English as a Second Language component of their program. They attribute this in part to an increase in the local immigrant population. The literacy section alone makes up 54% of total enrollment. With 360 students on file for 2006-07, they now offer courses in Questa and Penasco, and just recently started classes in Eagle Nest as well.

The ability to communicate well, to read, write, and be confident with math is essential to just about every aspect of individual and community well-being. Without this foundation, generations of citizens can be consigned to lives of poverty. Parents struggle to help their kids with homework. It’s hard to confidently interview for a job or fill out required job or health related forms. And it becomes increasingly difficult to become civically engaged, to know how to find information, or know the “right” questions to ask to make informed decisions. Whole communities are weakened.

It is said that the number one predictor of a child’s literacy level is the literacy level of the parent.

“So if we want literate children, we need to include the parents in the equation,” Hofer maintains.

When 45% of the national adult population has basic skills deficiencies, and at least 20% of adults over the age of 25 in Taos County lack a high school diploma, the importance of the work of The Literacy Center at UNM-Taos cannot be overestimated.

About The Bill Knief