Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Spelling Bee raises money for literacy

Spelling Bee raises money for literacy
By Laura Salinger
On March 16, Madison-area businesses and organizations competed in a spelling bee to raise money for local literacy and adult education programs. This fourth annual 2005 Adult Spelling Bee for Literacy, which was hosted by CUNA Mutual, will benefit the Madison Area Literacy Council and Omega School. The teams faced off in head-to-head spelling competitions judged by 2004 and 2005 Madison All-City Spelling Bee champion Isabel Jacobson and former Madison schools Principal Booker Gardner.

Sporting bee hats and antennae, spellers took the stage in front of an audience. General Casualty lost the first round to Isthmus Newspaper, after failing to spell p-u-s-i-l-l-a-n-i-m-o-u-s. Madison Metropolitan School District lost to City of Madison Librarians (both were sponsored by the DEMCO Corp.) after failing to spell g-a-z-p-a-c-h-o. The winners of the spelling bee were the City of Madison Librarians, who beat out last year’s winner, Isthmus, and CUNA Mutual, which won the bee in both 2002 and 2003.

CUNA Mutual community-relations manager Renee Ryan said the event is an upbeat, competitive way to raise money for adult literacy.

"We truly want to partner with the community and the good work they do with literacy and adult education," Ryan said. "We believe [that] the impact these programs make in the community [is] very positive."

Omega School provides basic adult education and GED preparation for adults in Dane County at its main facility, in neighborhoods, and in area jails. The school teaches approximately 250 students at any given time in a one-on-one educational setting.

"We help young adults 17 and older work on their GED diplomas," Executive Director Oscar Mireles said. "Our youngest graduate is 17, and our oldest is 86."

Omega School is an option for students who don’t succeed in the traditional high school setting. "If they can’t make it in a traditional setting, we allow them to reconnect with learning and the world," Mireles said. "If you haven’t finished school, you are not connected to your community."

The Madison Area Literacy Council is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one tutoring for Dane County adults who wish to gain better reading, writing, and speaking skills. It also offers ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to area Latinos and Hmong.

"We help adults and families improve their literacy skills so they can improve their lives," Madison Area Literacy Council executive director Gregory Markle said. "Our programs are directed at people who read and/or write below a sixth grade level."

The council uses goal-based programming; each individual sets the agenda for the literacy goals s/he wants to accomplish. Goals vary from finding a better job to gaining citizenship in the United States.

Markle said that low-literacy individuals face a number of barriers that significantly reduce their quality of life. "They can experience difficulties [with] anything from reading a bus schedule or job application to reading a note from their child’s teacher," Markle said. "Low-literacy people spend much of their life hiding."

"We are providing people with sustainable skills. Literacy opens the world up for people, and can significantly change their lives," Markle said.

Literacy in the United States is defined as "an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family, and in society."

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, nearly 100 million adults in the United States lack the basic literacy skills to function successfully in society.

According to the organization Literacy in Wisconsin, 14 percent of Wisconsin’s adult population functions in the lowest level of literacy. Twenty-five percent of Wisconsin’s adults function in the second-lowest level of literacy. Approximately 17,000 adults in Dane County are functionally illiterate, and 30,000 did not complete high school.

Low literacy in Wisconsin’s prisons and jails is much more prevalent than in the general population. Seven out of 10 prisoners function below a high school level, and 1 in 5 prisoners nationwide read at or below the eighth grade level. Spending for corrections nearly doubled in Wisconsin in the past 10 years, while literacy-program advocates say they are fighting for every dollar. Teaching adults basic literacy skills, they say, can keep people functioning in society and out of prison.

Adults whose first language is not English, may fall into low-level literacy category. While most are literate in their native language, they face the difficulty of learning a new language and a new culture. Almost 8 percent of Wisconsin residents — 368,712 people over age 5 speak a language other than English at home. Wisconsin’s Latino population more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s growth in the last decade (35,928 residents) is due to Asian immigrants and their children.

No matter what your background or education level, organizations like the Madison Area Literacy Council and Omega School will try to help you improve your life through training and education. From gaining reading ability to earning a high school diploma, you can get on the track to success with the help of these organizations.

Madison Area Literacy Council trains volunteer tutors to work one-one-one with both ESL and U.S.-born learners. For more information, call 244-3911

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