The Legacy Of Dr. Seuss

Literacy program helps Rim country residents read

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At most birthday parties, the revelers are served cake and ice cream.

At this one, they got "Green Eggs and Ham."

Friday marked what would have been the 98th birthday of legendary children's author Dr. Seuss, whose death in 1991 did nothing to slow down his popularity.

Last year, the National Education Association (NEA) estimated that almost 30 million children and adults across the country spent March 1 celebrating the good doctor's life, work, and the joy of reading he continues to bring to book lovers of all ages.

This year, as usual, the celebration unfolded across the Rim country's schools, too. And there may be no area resident happier about the tradition than Lois Johnson, program director of the Rim Country Literacy Program.

"I don't think any one person has inspired so many children to read as Dr. Seuss," Johnson said. "He shows them how much fun reading can be. And he captures their imaginations so thoroughly that they quickly learn to read along and follow the story on their own. Boy, you find out how true that is when you're reading a Dr. Seuss book to your grandchildren, and you try to skip a page. They won't let you get away with it."

Of course, Johnson appreciates all the help she can get in upping the literacy level of Gila County, where a full 23 percent of the population is illiterate a term she said is "generally defined as being below fifth-grade level."

"Ten years ago, when I first began to do research on this subject, I could not believe this was possible in our country," Johnson said. "And I've actually seen it get worse. But we're committed to changing lives, and we see lives changing every day."

Following RCLP's incorporation in May of 1994, Johnson's first student was a 37-year-old construction worker with a reading level of a third-grader.Since that time, the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization has changed hundreds of lives from six in 1994 to 138 in 2001.

"We had one woman who had been an early high-school dropout," Johnson said. "She left school in the ninth grade and went on to have children who are now teenagers. Not too long ago, her husband went through a lengthy period of unemployment because he'd been injured at work, and she had to keep the family going by getting a decent-paying job. So she came to us."

Following a year-and-a-half of RCLP tutoring, Johnson said, this woman "gained her GED, and she is now in medical school. She'll be graduating in a year as an X-ray technician."

Literacy in reading through free, confidential, one-on-one tutoring is not all RCLP has to offer to adults of Payson and the surrounding rural communities within Gila County. Its tutors can also provide instruction on basic mathematics and life skills.

On the education menu, too, is an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, wherein basic life skills are taught in conjunction with the other aspects of literacy to give students an immediate sense of empowerment by being able to recognize signs, directions, emergency instructions, etc. that will assist them in daily life.

And, as evidenced by the tale of the high-school-dropout-turned-medical-student, RCLP has elected to be the Payson area's advocator of GED by assisting students to prepare for GED testing with coaches using textbooks and computerized GED programming.

"This program gives people an improved self-esteem, so they can prepare for better jobs," Johnson said.

It also keeps a good number of volunteers very busy.

"Last year, we had over 3,000 volunteer hours by 30 volunteers," she said. "And we appreciate every one of them, because we receive no state or federal funding; we're supported strictly by donations from the community."

Those donations are tax-deductible and do not amount to the only way the community can help support RCLP. The organization is always in need of volunteers to assist in fund-raising, publicity and networking, and especially tutors.

"Right now, we do need coaches badly," Johnson said. "I have three GED students waiting for coaches. We would love to hear from anyone who'd like to help out."

So tear yourself from that copy of Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who" and give Lois Johnson a call.

The Rim Country Literacy Program Resource Center is located at 809 W. Longhorn Road #C14, Payson, AZ 85541. Phone: (928) 468-RCLP (7257). E-mail: rimcountryliteracy@yahoo.com

Resource center hours are Monday through Thursday9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday,9 a.m. to noon, or by appointment.

Literacy Statistics for the United States

At least 50 percent of the unemployed are functionally illiterate. U.S. Department of Labor

On average, a functionally illiterate adult earns 42 percent less than a high school graduate. U.S. Department of Education

It is estimated that $5 billion a year in taxes goes to support people receiving public assistance who are unemployable due to illiteracy. Laubach Literacy Action

The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television, having spent more time in front of the TV than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. U.S. Department of Education

People with less than six years of schooling are four times more likely to be receiving public assistance than those attaining six years or more. American Council of Life Insurance

27 percent of army enlistees can't read training manuals written at the seventh-grade level. Laubach Literacy Action

55 percent of all children in poverty live in single-parent households headed by women, and 40 percent of all single mothers have an eighth-grade education or less. Laubach Literacy Action

44 percent of all American adults do not read one book in the course of a year. U.S. Department of Education

The education of the parent is the single greatest predictor of whether a child will be raised in poverty. US. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Youngsters whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate themselves. National Assessment of Education Progress

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