Monthly Archives: March 2016

Adult Literacy In Today’s Society

On January 12, 1971, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as Governor of Georgia.  He said in his inaugural address: “Our people are our most precious possession. . .Every adult illiterate. . .is an indictment of us all…  the responsibility is our own and our government’s. . .I will not shirk this responsibility.”  Forty-five years later, his noble goal is still being address in every state in the nation.

A quick internet review of materials that discuss adult literacy will show consistent disagreement on how to define the operative terms.   But most writers agree on one practical definition:  A “functionally illiterate” adult is unable to read well enough to deal with everyday requirements of life.  And the inability to read and do math at a fifth-grade level is a well-accepted ballpark definition of functional illiteracy.

In 2009, The U.S. Department of Education did a national assessment, using statistics collected in 2003. It found that some 30 million American adults (about 14%) were functionally illiterate.  And before you make assumptions about the demographics:  75% were born in the United States, 2/3 were under 65; more than 3/4 could see well, and 90% had not been diagnosed with a learning disability.  In December 2014, another study from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy was reported, and it made clear that not much had changed.  The national adult illiteracy rate was still around 14%.

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The U.S. Department of Education findings as of 2014.

Such significant numbers obviously result in an adverse practical effect on the economic, medical, and emotional health of any nation.  People can observe and understand the direct and indirect prices of illiteracy.  What happens to health care if a mother cannot read the antidote instructions on a can of drain cleaner accidentally tasted by her toddler?  What effect is there on the right to vote when the voting instructions require the ability to read well?  What is the result of efforts for full and fair employment when most jobs require not only the ability to read, but also the computer skills to apply online?  What happens when parents cannot provide the educational support needed to be sure their children don’t start behind and stay behind?

Yes, functional illiteracy is something that is present in our world today.   Community resources like Literacy Kansas City and its volunteers, adult programs from public libraries, outreach efforts of local colleges and universities, help from businesses and industries who understand the need for a literate workforce, support from organizations and foundations, and the active participation of individuals who recognize that a literate community is a better community all work to improve literacy rates.   There are many ways to help adults work to their maximum literary potential in your own community.  Students come to Literacy Kansas City with so many special gifts and talents already in their skill set: it then becomes Literacy Kansas City’s goal to take those gifts and talents and use them to develop stronger literacy skills. Take a look at the topics listed on this website, and see how you can get involved!

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Filed under For Tutors, For Volunteers, In The News, Uncategorized, Understanding the Need

Program Overview: Let’s Read


Our newest instructor, Mary Weir, teaching at a Let’s Read Class.

How can we help children in Kansas City be successful readers? It’s a loaded question. Some say early literacy intervention and kindergarten readiness are the most important factors to help our students. Others suggest that we need to look at larger issues, like poverty, high mobility rates of students in the school district, or changing instructional methods in order to teach our students more effectively. The truth is, all of these opinions are extremely important factors to consider when addressing this issue. Here at Literacy KC, we address a factor that is often left out of the conversation: parent involvement.

In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of North Carolina determined that the most important influence on reading performance was the size of the home library, followed by the parent’s occupational status and the parent’s educational background (Evans, Kelley, Sikora, 2014). Our two big takeaways from this study were to get high quality literature into the hands of Kansas City kids and to inspire parents to get more involved in their child’s education. Thus, Let’s Read was born.

Let’s Read is a new kind of Family Reading Program. Through culturally-rich and award winning literature, we teach parents reading strategies and interventions that they can do with their kids at home. Let’s Read meets weekly for one hour, and is led by an instructor and a team of trained tutors. Each session has a central theme that is important in building literacy such as Imagine, Play, Talk, Sing and Grow, and we hand pick literature and a craft that embody the theme. While children are engaged in the craft, the instructor leads a facilitated discussion with the parents about strategies on how to support children as readers. This gives them a safe space to debrief with each other, as well as talk about their own educational and career goals. Through this comprehensive approach, it is our goal that families build a tradition of literacy in the home.

Since the program’s launch in January, we’ve facilitated 172 hours of family reading and given away 140 books. What’s so exciting about this program is that parents are not only encouraged to read more with their children at home, but they feel empowered to get more involved with their children’s school as well. One mother even claimed that because of this program, she wants to get involved in her school’s PTA, so that she can make real changes in the education system.

Let’s Read is currently at one pilot site, and will be fully launching at 5 sites this May.

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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Programs & Services, Uncategorized

Meet Kevin Derohanian

As I settle into week four in my new office here on Armour Blvd, I find myself thinking about how I ended up here and my plans at Literacy Kansas City going forward. Moving to Kansas City from the Tampa, Florida area was not an easy decision to make. After graduating from the University of Connecticut (GO HUSKIES!) with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Minor in Political Science in May 2015, my relocation to Florida was intended to be more of a long term plan. Both my parents and two sisters reside there and it seemed like a natural decision to rejoin them and settle into a warmer climate. While there, I worked in promotions for a media group in St. Petersburg that managed six radio stations in the Tampa Bay area. It was truly fun and exciting work, but I had my sights set on more of a marketing and communications based position and began looking elsewhere, with a goal of beginning a new job for the new year.

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Kevin cheering on his beloved UConn Huskies

After a family friend suggested looking into AmeriCorps, I found myself filling out a general application and checking their job board in search of any marketing positions. It was there that I saw the opportunity to come work for Literacy Kansas City. While I never ruled out the idea of moving out of the Tampa area, I can say that it was not an original goal of mine to do so. However, after speaking with the staff at Literacy Kansas City, I was compelled to fly out to Kansas City for a weekend and give it a chance. I flew in on a Friday afternoon around 6:00 PM and I had been in contact with Emily Hane (Programs Manager) throughout the week about the possibility of stopping in to see the office. After reporting to her that I had arrived, she was kind enough to invite me to come to the office for a tour. It was there that I also found Will Orlowski (Ticket to Read Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA) and Lindsey Clark (Family Reading Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA) waiting for me.  The reason I am telling you this is because ultimately it is a major reason why I decided to move to a new city where I didn’t know anyone in order to come work at Literacy Kansas City. The fact that Emily, Will, and Lindsey were willing to come back to work on a Friday night after a long work week to meet me speaks volumes about the type of people that Literacy Kansas City employs. They went out of their way to make sure that I was able to see both our office and explore Kansas City in the short time that I was visiting. There are not many places in the world where a prospective employee would be given such a high level of hospitality and respect and it is a testament to the caring and dedicated employees involved with Literacy KC. The top notch employees combined with the unique mission of Literacy Kansas City to improve all types of literacy skills for its students made the decision to come here a relatively simple one.


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Kevin and his two sisters, Kelsey (right) and Courtney (left).

The first few weeks of my time here has been working towards getting to know Literacy Kansas City in all regards. This means doing everything from reading all documents LKC related to sitting in on classes and getting to know anyone associated with the organization. As time has progressed and my knowledge of Literacy Kansas City has increased, my decision to come here has been positively reinforced through interactions with students, volunteers, tutors, employees, donors, and community partners on a daily basis. It is refreshing to come to a place where everyone is so determined to accomplish the same goal. My job as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator is to work to improve how we broadcast just how great Literacy Kansas City is to the community! I will be doing this through our social media channels and email/mailing communications, among other things. I look forward to furthering Literacy Kansas City’s exposure in the Kansas City metropolitan area and beyond. If anyone has any questions or suggestions for me going forward, please feel free to email me ( or call me (816-333-9332, extension 102). Also, if you find yourself in our office, my door is always open and I welcome any visitors!


Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, Uncategorized


Some fund-raising events are more fun than others, and the 22nd Annual Literacy KC Spelling Bee on April 28 at Pierson Auditorium, on the UMKC campus, will be one of the “more fun” ones. Really!

Starting at 5, there’s a lively opening hour with complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine, and it features a selection of excellent wines from our local winery and event sponsor, Aubrey Vineyards. And we’ll again be serving our truly popular and inimitable signature (delicious!) cocktail, the “Bee Stinger,” which is complimentary, but comes with a suggested donation.

During the cocktail hour, the silent auction will have plenty of things you can probably score by bidding a couple of Jacksons, and there will be many more items that likely will require, well, a bit more to beat out your competition. The live auction of large donations during dinner always brings spirited bidding. Among this year’s offerings we have a week in a spacious two-bedroom villa at the Marriott Mountainside in Park City, Utah, where you and up to seven guests can enjoy access to world-class skiing, year-round events, and the unrivaled natural beauty of the locale. If you’re after something more exotic, make your bid for the South African Photo Safari and experience the amazing adventure of African safari at the Zulu Nyala Game Lodge. More information to come on these and other live auction prizes, including exclusive author book discussions, weekend getaways, and more!

This year is Literacy Kansas City’s 30th anniversary as a nonprofit organization, and there will be a video celebration, including a rollout presentation of some exciting new changes and events slated for 2016. This also is a significant anniversary year for one of our stalwart competitors:  Rotary Club 13 of Kansas City, Missouri, will be celebrating its 20th year of Bee competition.

Barbara Dolci, the chairman of Club 13’s Literacy Committee, says they have their own pre-party and competition to raise the money for the entry fee. It involves a “spell-off,” where club members compete for the honor of representing Club 13 at the Bee. Dolci says the Bee is one of three literacy projects their Literacy Committee sponsors, including providing reading materials for adults at Rose Brooks Center and supporting a program at Rockhurst University that provides tutoring to children at Spofford Home.

Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper - UMB Winning Spelling Team

Literacy Kansas City’s 21st Annual Spelling Bee Winners – UMB – Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper

Between the bidding and the spelling, competition is the name of the game at the Bee. But the Bee is also one more example of how corporations, associations, and organizations can work together to increase literacy in our communities. Go to the Spelling Bee event page and get involved! If you are part of a corporation, company, association, book club, dinner group, or just have a bunch of friends who are avid spellers and literacy champions and want to sponsor and compete, call us. If you’d like to sponsor a team but don’t have an itch to compete, we will find you a team you could be proud of. Most importantly, join us for an enjoyable evening and an exciting indoor sports event! It’s good fun on behalf of a very good cause.


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How Does Technology Affect Low-Literate Adults?

By Sarah Bell, Ticket to Read Instructor and Google Fellow

In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about literacy without mentioning the digital component. It seems like everything has an online counterpart these days. Most of these provide convenience in our busy lives, such as online banking, bill pay, shopping, Google maps, etc. Of course, without access to the Internet, these can become barriers instead of conveniences, especially when the digital option is the only one. Many of the discussions about bridging the digital divide focuses on alleviating those barriers, helping those individuals who cannot afford the Internet or a device or who do not have the necessary digital skills to navigate. These are important conversations to have, and it is exciting to see how many organizations are working together to break down those barriers.

But what about those individuals who also have low literacy as a barrier? For them, technology might not just be too expensive, or one item on a list of skills they want to learn. Instead, technology becomes yet another thing that has a lot of words and letters that they don’t have the skills to read, or the confidence to navigate.

Before I started as the Digital Inclusion Fellow, I worked at Literacy Kansas City as an adult literacy instructor. I have worked with a lot of students who come to us with a variety of goals and needs. Some have very little reading skills, others need help with comprehension, and many want assistance with their writing. During our orientation for new students, we ask them what their goals are at Literacy KC, including if they have any that are computer-related. I will never forget one student I talked to, who explained that while she understands the value of computers and technology, she needed to focus on her reading and writing right now, so anything digital would have to wait.

Hearing her prioritize her goals in that way stunned me, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course working on reading and writing skills is a tremendous priority for our students. But to go back to my opening statement, 21st-century literacy cannot be detached from its digital component. No matter what a student’s goals are for coming to Literacy KC, most likely they will need to know at least the basics of navigating a computer and the Internet, if not more advanced skills depending on their career and education goals.

Yet, technology barriers look different for low-literate adults. For a dyslexic student who may reverse her letters, typing in a web address can be a daunting task. Missing a symbol or hitting a wrong letter can take you to a completely different location. A lack of typing skills can prevent a student from completing a job application, or creating a resume or letter. One student had to submit a typed essay as part of his application for an online high school program. His essay consisted of all lower case letters with no spaces and punctuation. Similarly to misspelled words, poor grammar, and bad handwriting on a written application, poor typing can determine whether a student is successful on an online form. There are many digital resources and tutorials available online to assist individuals with learning about and navigating the Internet, yet they presume their audience reads at a certain (usually high) reading level, let alone that they have a knowledge of basic computer skills. My student’s statement about not having time to focus on anything digital is significant because I don’t believe we can separate out what we do in the classroom—teaching reading and writing—from the digital components of literacy.


Represent Student-Interns working on their computer skills.

But technology is not all bad! In many ways technology can be a barrier for low-literate students, but in other ways it can be a tool to help them. Every week in one of my classes, I had a student speak words into his phone to give him the correct spelling while he was writing. We use a reading software program called Reading Plus that helps students with their comprehension and vocabulary skills, but logging on can be difficult for students. One of my older students always needed help getting on the website, although she was able to navigate it just fine after she got there. A few weeks into our term she pulled me over and exclaimed that she had gotten on the website all by herself!

I had already observed many of the positives and negatives of using technology with my students in the classroom, so when I became the Digital Inclusion Fellow, I had a good understanding of what worked, what didn’t, and what we could add to our already existing digital literacy curriculum. Moving forward, we are hoping to get more students using our computer lab. In addition to using Reading Plus, we will be strongly encouraging students to practice typing and to take our 4-week series computer classes, which will teach them how to use online library resources, navigate everyday websites, and learn parts of the Google suite. I believe as we help students break down both sets of barriers, reading/writing and digital, we will see their confidence rise in all areas of literacy.


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Filed under Community Partners, digital literacy, For Tutors, For Volunteers