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New program aims to help adults struggling with literacy



Thirty percent of Oklahoma adults read below a basic fifth-grade level, according to a national assessment completed in 2005. Twelve percent of those read below a second-grade level. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation hopes to change that with a new program called "Get Reading Oklahoma."


The program offers various methods in which adults who struggle with literacy can learn basic life skills, such as filling out a job application, or preparing for the General Educational Development test, or GED. These courses are available online, on cable television and even on DVD. 

Mary Surbeck, literacy program coordinator for OCCF, said this issue has remained in the shadows for so long because many of these adults never wanted to admit they needed help. Although the foundation had resources to help them, she said few were utilizing it because they were embarrassed. "Get Reading Oklahoma" was developed to combat this issue.

"This is a program that addresses all the barriers that we've been trying to eliminate," Surbeck said. "It reaches them in a way we haven't been able to reach them."

In years past, Nancy Anthony, OCCF executive director, said she thought the problem was within society, rather than a personal issue. Over time, however, she realized the combination of lack of time, resources and motivation were some of the obstacles causing these adults to remain illiterate. Transportation and child care were also issues several adults experienced, and OCCF had to think creatively to come up with a method to improve these situations.

With other community partners, what they devised was the multiplatform program. "GED Connection," one of its facets, focuses on the five areas the test covers in a direct, but entertaining format. The 39-episode program offers encouragement and an in-depth preview of the GED.

"TV411," another element, helps adults with lower than a fifth-grade level make it in the real world by helping with basic reading, writing and math skills, such as calculating a mortgage, improving vocabulary and reading a pay stub. This program consists of 30 half-hour episodes on a variety of subjects to help each family and their needs. Surbeck said the topics are direct and short, with each segment only lasting a few minutes, but engaging enough to stick.

"There are lots of things to appeal to people who might be struggling," she said.

The newfound convenience lies in the location of these programs. "GED Connection" and "TV411" are both available online at; on television via OETA's OKLA channel and Cox On Demand; and on DVDs distributed to various learning organizations. This program began in June and is still expanding across the state. Oklahoma City and surrounding counties have complete accessibility to these materials, and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries is working to spread the program to rural areas as well. 

Spanish-speaking residents can even learn English because the program is so user-friendly, Anthony said. 

She said OCCF is still working to tackle the concept of time. In the five months the program has been available, positive feedback from providers has flowed in consistently. But the process will take much longer than these initial months, as everyone learns differently at a different pace. With the newfound accessibility of the program, adults can learn what they need on their own schedules.

"Adult learners don't learn very quickly; it can take two or three years," Anthony said. "That's a long haul just to get to the eighth-grade level."

Cathy Nestlen, OCCF director of communications, said the program has been especially beneficial to the method of adult learning. She said a visual stimulus paired with repetition is a multifaceted way to ensure comprehension.

Adults who need the program can use it at their convenience, even if it's after the kids finally drift off to sleep. Others ask their children to sit and learn along with them, Nestlen said.

"Any time parents and children interact like that, it really reinforces the value of education," she said.

Within the first month, an average of 1,300 households tuned in to the television programs, Surbeck said.

"Through those partnerships, we've really gotten those materials and DVDs distributed across the state," she said.

Surbeck said she wants adults to utilize the program and not leave the materials sitting unattended on the shelf.

"We don't see the program as magic bullets," she said. "We see it as a jump start, a confidence booster, a springboard."

"Get Reading Oklahoma" is the only program of its kind, Anthony said.

"I think the fact that it exists is a step forward," she said. "Paige Lawler

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