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2014 January 6 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Ind. Literacy Center Aids Struggling Readers

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — You can measure literacy in degrees.

For instance, Ashley Sauer wants to improve hers enough to earn a degree from Ivy Tech Community College and be able to find and keep a job in medical technology.

Others come to The Literacy Center to learn to decipher maps and road signs, order food from a menu or follow directions on a prescription medicine bottle, said Jennifer Wigginton, executive director for the Literacy Center.

Sauer, a 19-year-old Ivy Tech freshman, already read and wrote better than many of the students who come for tutoring at The Literacy Center, when she asked for tutoring in June, but she worried about making the grade understanding college texts and composing class papers in her freshman year in college.

In asking for help, “she fit right in with all the clients we serve,” said Wigginton.

The center provides free tutoring for anyone who asks for it and demonstrates their commitment to the program by completing 12 hours of preliminary testing and instruction on computers in the center.

Just asking for help with reading and writing may pose the most difficult challenge for many, however, said Wigginton. “There’s definitely a stigma attached to illiteracy, but it’s not contagious, and it is curable.”

Sauer understands that fear, which causes many to try to hide their illiteracy. She felt it herself, as a young, shy child struggling with words. In first grade, “I was diagnosed with a reading disability,” she said.

“When I got older, though, I thought ‘Why should I be ashamed? If I just need a little help from somebody, why don’t I just go and get some help?”

Sauer was fortunate to have willing teachers who met with her before and after classes to help tutor her with difficult subjects. She struggled, but kept working at it all through school, graduating from Central High School with at 2.4 grade-point average.

“I was trying to shoot for a 3.0,” she said.

When she got to college, however, she worried about the reading.

“I thought they’d eat me alive,” she said.

Counselors told her about the Literacy Center after she scored low on the reading and writing portion Ivy Tech’s entrance testing.

The summer before classes started, she did the preliminary course, and began weekly tutoring sessions with Susanna Hoeness-Krupsaw, one of 29 volunteers currently tutoring 30 students through the Literacy Center.

Hoeness-Krupsaw has a doctorate and is a professor of English at the University of Southern Indiana. She is a native of Germany, where she learned English, French, a reading knowledge of Spanish and some Latin. She has lived in the United States since 1982, taught at USI for about 25 years and offered her services as a tutor for about 20 years, she said.

Over the decades she has volunteered in many capacities, including teaching others to tutor, but she’s continued working with students throughout. As a college English teacher, “I think how horrible it must be for people who don’t know how to read and write,” she said. “I feel like I have to do something about it.”

Hoeness-Krupsaw counts Sauer among the most dedicated students she has tutored.

“It is a privilege, really, to work with her,” said Hoeness-Krupsaw. “She is a very hardworking person.”

The two meet weekly in 75-minute sessions at The Learning Center, working through exercises in workbooks, reading topical reports they write for one another and talking about lessons, questions and life. The approach, used by all the center’s volunteer tutors, aims to help students improve their literacy through reading, writing, speaking, reasoning and just feeling comfortable expressing themselves.

They’re critical skills in succeeding in school, in job interviews and employment, and in developing relationships with others.

“We’re hoping to help their quality of life,” said Wigginton, “to help open doors for them.”

Sauer is a great example of how that can work, Wigginton added. “She’s a very hard worker. She’s always been willing to do anything and everything we’ve offered.”

It’s paid off already. After a few months with the Literacy Center, Sauer passed the reading and writing components of Ivy Tech’s placement tests, and she no longer fears being “eaten alive” in college.

“I got done last week with my first semester,” she said, “and I was really proud of myself.”

Her grammar and vocabulary have improved on the page and even in casual conversation, she said.

“Sometimes I catch myself using these big words. My friends just look at me and say ‘What?’”

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