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Literacy and Illiteracy in the North Country

Heuvelton Central School first-grader with a reading worksheet.
Over 20 percent of adults in America have the lowest level of literacy skills measured by the U.S. Department of Education. Practically speaking, they can’t read and write well enough to fill out a simple job application or get a driver’s license.The numbers in the North Country mirror those of the nation as a whole. What are the costs of illiteracy, for individuals, and the larger community? Why do so many of us struggle with illiteracy? And what can be done? In this special series, North Country Public Radio examines what literacy is, how it’s achieved, why it isn’t, and the impact illiteracy has on our region and people.

Pt. 1: How Does the Brain Learn and Use Language? 1/14/02
Listen to story (8:18)

A look at the latest research into what literacy is. How do people learn to read? Why is it easy for some, but not or others? How does the brain learn and use language? Brian Mann reports.

Close up of the display cases at Clifton-Fine.

Clifton-Fine Superintendent Gail Gotham fills half the brass display cases in her school with books to motivate reading.

People: Carol Nuebert, Reading Specialist
, 1/14/02
Listen to story (11:29)

Martha Foley talks with Carol Neubert, assistant superintendent and reading specialist at Canton Central School.

Pt. 2: Teaching Reading: Phonics vs. Whole Language
Listen to story (9:13)

Looking at the two dominant methods of teaching reading—phonics and whole language—how they work, and how they don't. Brian Mann reports.

The 25 Books Campaign: Reading Immersion at Clifton-Fine,
Listen to story (5:26)

A small St. Lawrence County school does its part to improve literacy and motivate readers. Students at Clifton-Fine are given books as rewards for reading. Todd Moe reports.

People: Gail Gotham, School District Superintendent
, 1/14/02
Listen to story (9:43)

Martha Foley talks by phone with Clifton-Fine Superintendent Gail Gotham.


Teaching First Graders to Read in Heuvelton, 1/16/02
Listen to story (7:48)

Todd Moe profiles a first grade class in Heuvelton, just on the verge of literacy, where a combination of phonics and whole-language is used to motivate kids to read, and the divide between fast learners and problem readers begins.

Above: A display board shows how some words are coded to help students understand vowel sounds and consonants.

Top left: Teacher Ann Bush works with her first graders on a reading worksheet.

Bottom left: Students are encouraged to choose books and read on their own.

Learning to Read Late in Life, 1/16/02
Listen to story (6:17)

Coming out of the illiteracy closet. David Sommerstein profiles two people who have learned to read late in life with the help of Literacy Volunteers in Jefferson and Lewis counties.

Literacy Volunteers in your community:

  • Essex County: (518)942-7607
  • Glens Falls: Leslie Eagle, (518)793-7414
  • Fulton County: Donna Hunter, (518)725-1440
  • Franklin County: (518)483-3583
  • Clinton County: Norma Menard, (518)564-5332
  • Saratoga County: Sue Hensley, (518)583-1232
  • Jefferson & Lewis Counties: Cecilia Brock, (315)782-4270
  • Literacy Volunteers of America

Betsy Kepes: Cracking the Code for Reading
, 1/16/02
Listen to story (3:0)

As part of our literacy series, commentator Betsy Kepes tells us about her youngest son just learning to read, being a literacy volunteer and being functionally illiterate while living in Japan.

Photos at left:

Top: Joe McConnell, Adams, got his GED after six years studying with Literacy Volunteers.

Middle: Joe with Tammy Marie Delong, Carthage, and Cecilia Brock, director of the Jefferson and Lewis Counties Literacy Volunteers.

Bottom.Tammy holds her study book for the New York State Driver's Test.

Even Start Program Helps Franklin County Families Learn to Read
, 1/17/02
Listen to story (8:10)

Traditional research says that a child's ability to succeed in school is strongly related to his or her parent's—and especially mother's—level of education. If a mother learns to read or gets her GED, the idea goes, she's better prepared to read to her children, teach them the skills they'll need when they get to school. But further research says the situation may be more complicated. David Sommerstein explores the field of family literacy with a profile of the federal funded Even Start program in Franklin County.

Even Start programs in the North Country:

  • Franklin County: Joe Campbell, (518)4830290
  • St. Lawrence County: Faye Bartley, (315)379-9201 x164
  • Clinton & Essex Counties: Jeanette Mitchell, (518)942-3077
  • Herkimer County: (315)867-2079
  • There is currently no Even Start program in Jefferson or Lewis Counties.

Amy Gehostlaw plays with her son Dawson.

"Who Let the Dogs Out!"

The Gehostlaw family.




Below: Home educator Jill Vaughan works with the Gothlaw kids while she talks with mother Amy.

People: Jill Vaughan, home literacy educator, 1/17/02
Listen to story (8:41)

David Sommerstein talks with Jill Vaughan, the home educator with Even Start in Franklin County, about how poverty and class issues figure into literacy and school success.

Confessions of a Library "Criminal"
, 1/17/02
Listen to story (4:38)

Brian Mann's commentary on his love of reading and books—and a love-hate relationship with libraries.

Job Skills: Math, Science and Computer Literacy
, 1/18/02
Listen to story (9:17)

Literacy is the ability to read and write at a certain level of proficiency. But, increasingly it has become common to attach the word to the subjects of math, science and even computers. As our series on literacy in the North Country concludes today, we look at how employers are coping with the increasing demands for a more technologically skilled workforce and how the gap in skills affects the northern New York economy. Jody Tosti has our story.

Clinton County Literacy Volunteers (518) 564-5332
One-Stop Career Center, St. Lawrence County (315) 386-3276

People: Mike Coffey—On Poetry and Language
, 1/18/02
Listen to story (8:25)

Our literacy series continues as poet Michael Coffey reads his poem "Marie" and talks about language. Brian Mann reports.

Related Links: complete reading of the poem Marie

Literacy Resource Links:

Major support for this series, Literacy and Illiteracy in the North Country, was provided by the Sheard Literacy Center at the SUNY Potsdam School of Education