Kalamazoo Literacy Council combats low adult literacy in West Michigan

by Lora Painter | News Channel 3 | Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WWMT) — Recent research showed 43 million U.S. adults have low literacy skills, meaning one in five have difficulty completing certain low-level reading tasks.

2019 study by the U.S Department of Education found about 43.1 million American adults performed at or below a Level 1 comprehension level in English. This means they are unable to successfully determine the meaning of sentences, read relatively short texts to locate a single piece of information, or complete simple forms, and could be considered functionally illiterate in English.

In Kalamazoo County, one in eight adults struggle to read, according to the Kalamazoo Literacy Council. That means those adults have a hard time reading to their children, filling out a job application or understanding medical information, the organization said.

“All across the state, all across the country, we do find that there are adults who struggle to read and the term functional literacy really means reading at 0 to fourth grade level,” Michael Evans, the executive director of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, said. “Most documents for adults struggling to read at that level, they may not be able to read it independently. So that might mean the mail you receive, the applications you need to fill out if you try to apply for a job — not being able to search those jobs and be able to see how you fit.”

Experts also said children of parents who struggle with reading skills could also be impacted.

“We know that as a parent, you are the first teacher of your children. One of the things that we learn through research is 72% of children born to adults with low literacy skills are likely to repeat that cycle,” Evans said.

“As a parent it would be very difficult for you to be able to help with your children’s homework especially when they get to a level that’s above your ability to read,” Evans said.

“Literacy is a primary indicator of future success. For adults who struggle to read, or who are English language learners, low literacy means they’re under equipped for certain aspects of life such as managing their health, getting a job, or helping their children learn. Research shows that 72% of children born to adults with low literacy are at a higher risk of repeating the cycle, ” Kalamazoo Literacy Council Marketing and Development Coordinator Kito Jumanne-Marshall said.

The Kalamazoo Literacy Council has held many events and programs to help increase literacy in a fun, effective and engaging way.

In July, the Council held a free public event called “Read and Seed. Family Literacy Day.” People of all ages, backgrounds and socio-economic levels were encouraged to attend the event at Good Will Industries in Kalamazoo to participate in fun reading activities in the community garden.

“We received fantastic feedback from parents and partners — everyone really enjoyed the activities in the garden. One nice surprise was having so many of our board members bring their families,” Jumanne-Marshall said.

The Childcare Center at Goodwill will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday starting Sept. 13.

“Childcare is one of the most consistent barriers to adult learning. Through partnership with Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan, we will now have free on-site childcare for children 0-4, while their parents are studying with us in classes like GED, Financial Literacy, JOBS, Writing, and Read and Seed. We are proud to offer true multigenerational programming to help parents become more confident and capable first teachers of their children. Our Parent Literacy Together class has a specific focus on helping parents navigate online learning. Here, they will gain tips and strategies for choosing educational apps, creating an effective at-home school, and caring for electronic devices. These are just a few of the ways we support ‘little scholars’ and their parents,” Jumanne-Marshall said.

According to a study by the Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2012-15, American adults scored higher than the international average.

However, compared to higher-performing countries like Japan and Finland, the United States lags behind in literacy.

According to this study, in literacy, 50% of U.S. adults performed at Level 3, or a high level of literacy, or above compared to 72% in Japan and 63% in Finland. At the other end of the skill spectrum, 18% of U.S. adults performed at or below Level 1, or a low level of literacy, compared to 5% in Japan and 11% in Finland performing at this lowest level.

The literacy council serves learners and parents through its ESL of Southwest Michigan program which offers English classes beginning to advanced, discussion, citizenship, and test of English as a foreign language, according to Jumanne-Marshall.

The council’s literacy centers at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and El Concilio will host in-person learning starting in September.

For more about the Kalamazoo Literacy Council’s adult literacy programs and services, visit kalamazooliteracy.org.

For class schedules and descriptions or to learn how to volunteer, you may contact Kito Jumanne-Marshall at 269-382-0490 extension 211 or kjumanne-marshall@kalamazooliteracy.org.