Thursday, March 09, 2006

Literacy summit generates ideas

NORTH PORT -- Nancy Pike, director of the Sarasota County Library, opened the Literacy Summit Tuesday by placing a number on the face of literacy in America.

"There are over 40 million people in this country whose reading skills are not where they need to be in order to function in society," said Pike.

The Literacy Summit held at the Girl Scout Auditorium in Sarasota attracted about 100 concerned teachers, librarians, community activists and volunteers to discuss the need for programs to combat illiteracy.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, literacy is not defined by the ability to pass a standardized test, but rather the ability of individuals to use written information to function in society and to achieve goals.

"We must focus on the possibilities, not place and not rehash blame," said Pike.

According to the Department of Education on a federal test, considered a report card for the country, the reading performance of 17-year-olds has essentially been stagnant for 20 years.

"Whether you are talking about teen mothers, immigrants to this country, adult 'new-readers,' or the growing number of students needing extra assistance, we need to develop and support programs that eliminate illiteracy," said Pike.

Linda Crane, School Board Sarasota County Language Arts Program specialist, is passionate about the literacy needs of the children. She eagerly wanted to get to know each of the other agency's programs.

"That's what this summit is about," she said. "The good thing is that the after school programs, provided by the School Board, help to extend the total number of hours available to for kids that need help reading and writing, little kids -- big minds."

The summit focused on diverse individuals and organization representatives who shared their program and resource information. Most are aimed at reaching as many people as possible who have reading comprehension problems.

Area Director for the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota County Tony Torrence said the "greatest potential" for improving literacy is for a child's home environment to play a role.

He said teaching kids to love books is important only if parents learn to appreciate their potential and are invested in their children's lives.

"The (earlier) the intervention, the better," said Torrence.

Increasing the time spent engaging children and making it a habit to have reading material at home will help, he said.

Robyn Faucy, partnerships director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, was animated in her enthusiasm for Partnerships with Rotarians of District 6960, which extends as far south as Naples. The organization matches students with Rotarian volunteers, for one-to-one tutoring in reading comprehension.

"Literacy is not only an educational issue, it's a social issue," Faucy said. "It increases self-esteem and increases a person's ability to achieve their goals no matter what those goals may be. Reading is about life's possibilities."


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