Functional Literacy Rates Below 50%

According to a national study, more than half of East Texans are functionally illiterate. That means they can't read above an 8th grade level. The number does includes non-English speaking immigrants. But it is mostly made up of people who were born and raised right here.

Jo Rensen reads the Tyler Paper Monday morning with a little help. Reading is easier now than it was for her just two years ago.

"I read everywhere I go. I've caught myself reading signs. Used to I couldn't read signs on the highway. I was embarrased even when I was in grade school that I couldn't read that well. As time went on, high school, it didn't get better, it got worse." That was more than 45 years ago.  Now, rensen comes to the Literacy Council of Tyler a couple of times each week to get one on one help.

She's not alone. The Council says 2,500 adults have come here to learn to read this year. That's up over last year by 37%. And they maintain a waiting list of at least 100 other people who need similar help.

Dee Bishop works with some of those students. She helps recent immigrants learn to read, write and speak in English. "Most of them have gone all the way through high school. Some of them have even had some university training. And, they realize that learning the English language is very important to them getting really good jobs here."

For Jo Rensen, it's not about getting a better job. It's about the joy of reading, the feeling of accomplishment, and understanding it's never too late to learn. "I'm enrolled at the college again, and I plan to finish Tyler Junior College, and hopefully I will get me a Bachelor's Degree at the University of Texas at Tyler."

It costs the Literacy Council of Tyler around $340 per student per year. If you would like more information about their serivces or want to volunteer, call 533-0330.