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Volunteer Tutors Help Adults Learn to Read

Volunteer literacy tutor Ann Hamlin works with a student.

Volunteer literacy tutor Ann Hamlin works with a student.

Volunteer literacy tutor Ann Hamlin helps one of her adult students as he practices his writing. He’s applying for a new job and wants to brush up on some of his skills. Fortunately for him, he has an experienced helper. After more than 23 years of tutoring, Hamlin has developed a keen awareness for her students’ needs and how she can best develop their skills and confidence.

Hamlin is one of 58 literacy tutors in Lake County who volunteer their time, usually two or three hours a week, to work one-on-one with adults wanting to improve basic skills in reading, writing, math, or speaking English. Tutors may help out teachers in Adult Basic Education classrooms, or meet individually with students at various sites throughout Lake County, including participating libraries, schools, and the Lake County Jail.

“People enter our literacy program associating school with frustration and failure,” said Josh Anderson, literacy coordinator at the Waukegan Public Library. “Our tutoring gives them a place to build confidence and gain the skills that allow them to start down a road toward achieving their goals.”

The tutoring program started 25 years ago through a partnership between the Waukegan Public Library, Literacy Volunteers of Lake County and the College of Lake County. Over the years, services have continued to expand in response to the county’s growing literacy needs. In Lake County, 13 percent of all adults are unable to sign their name or locate the expiration date on a driver’s license, according to United Way of Lake County.

“Our literacy level not only affects people on an individual basis; it has widespread social and economic implications,” said Richard Lee, executive director of the Waukegan Public Library. In 2010 the library built a Literacy Suite on its lower level, a dedicated facility where Lake County residents take free family literacy classes and tutors meet one-on-one with their students in a private tutoring room.

To become certified as a literacy tutor, volunteers must attend a two-day tutor training series. Instructors teach prospective tutors how to work with students of varying abilities, learning styles and goals, and where to access teaching resources. After completing the course, tutors are placed on a registry and matched with students based on their backgrounds and site preferences.

“Be patient, be adaptable to the student’s needs, have confidence in your own teaching ability, and listen to and get to know the student,” Hamlin advises new tutors. “Their goal is your goal.”

The next tutor training orientation is scheduled for Jan. 31, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the College of Lake County in Grayslake. Interested volunteers can drop in or preregister to ask questions and obtain more information about the tutoring program. For those who want to pursue certification, the next tutor training series will be held on two Saturdays, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the College of Lake County and the Waukegan Public Library.

To register for the orientation or request more information about free literacy services available, call Josh Anderson at (847) 623-2041, ext. 225.

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