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Literacy, Front and Center


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In my work, I encounter extraordinary people all the time and often our paths cross in moments of great upheaval and change. They’re heading off to war.  They’re starting a new business.  They’re fighting for a cause they...

Front and Center

Front and Center is a collaboration between WBEZ Chicago and other Great Lakes region public media journalists funded by the Joyce Foundation. North Country Public Radio is a contributing member to its series on literacy.

Front and Center Literacy Series

Front & Center launched an on-air and in-depth look at low literacy in the Great Lakes region (series home page at WBEZ). While difficulties reading or writing may or may not directly affect our listeners, the impact of low skilled residents reverberates far and wide. These include children who have trouble communicating or gaining respect because of the way they speak or write, and people stuck in low wage jobs and the mire of poverty, unable to help grow our economy. Why does this continue to be a problem when some countries have realized the economic and social potential of educating its nation's residents?

Here are some statistics about literacy in the Great Lakes region:

Here are some more far-reaching statistics about literacy in the United States:

  • The dropout rate for students with LD and/or low literacy levels was estimated at 31.6 % as compared to 9.4 % for students with no disabilities (U. S. Dept. of Education, 2007).
  • An estimated 25 to 33% of students are struggling to achieve competency in completing assignments by hand, despite the fact that it remains a prevalent practice in many elementary schools.
  • Sixteen states do not require children to receive any preventive vision care before starting school or while enrolled in school. Thirty-three states (including D.C.) require a vision screening, but 28 of them do not require children who fail the screening to receive an eye exam by an eye doctor.
  • 24% of children over the age of two in heavy TV households can read, compared to 36% of children in other homes. This difference is even more pronounced among the four- to six-year-old group, where 34% of those in heavy TV homes can read, compared to 56% of those in non-heavy TV homes, according to their parents.

In dry times, water's value becomes clear

About a third of all the counties in the country are suffering through a drought this summer. NPR reported Friday that drought conditions were listed as severe, extreme, or exceptional in just over 46 percent of the lower 48 states.

The USDA has cut its estimate of the fall corn harvest. And also last week, the Associated Press reported: "The Plains states where the production of corn and soybeans is key are being hit harder by excessive drought conditions in the wake of the hottest month on record in the continental U.S., contributing to a surge in global food prices."

Counting conditions in Texas in 2011, it's actually the second summer of record drought.
Just north of the parched heartland, the Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water. For an ongoing partnership with WBEZ in Chicago last fall, Brian Mann explored whether this precious resource can be harnessed to help reverse the region's economic decline and put people back to work.  Go to full article
Apollonia Bingham-Bianco, at work on her first-grade knitting project: the hat. Photo: Linda Lutton/Front and Center

In this first grade, knitting is the focus

Most schools in the United States begin teaching students to read from the time they enter kindergarten. In fact, it's not hard to find 4-year-olds learning the letters of the alphabet and even reading easy words in preschool.

However, not every early-learner starts that way. For our collaboration on literacy with WEBEZ's Front and Center, Linda Lutton brings us the story of a school in the Great Lakes region that is taking a radically different approach.  Go to full article
Cyber-navigator Zach McMahon helps patron Charlie Brown navigate a computer. Photo: Front and Center

Filling out social service forms, without digital literacy

Throughout Front and Center, our continuing collaboration with WBEZ , we've been exploring issues of literacy and how that affects people in school life and work. Usually when you hear the word "literacy" you think of reading and writing. But a new form of literacy is becoming increasingly important: digital literacy. Front and Center's Shannon Heffernan has this story about one bridge in the digital divide.

Support for Front and Center comes from the Joyce Foundation, improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.  Go to full article
Habiba Mberwa sits at a desk at the SBCA, where she has been attending citizenship classes for five months. Photo: Front and Center

For Syracuse refugee community, literacy an important step toward citizenship

One of the first obstacles refugees face when trying to adjust to a new life in the United States is English; the language gap makes everyday life difficult. Many refugees...  Go to full article
Photo: Nicholas Gunner/Front and Center

Literacy seen as key to refugee success in America

Since the founding of the United States, immigrants have played a role in creating communities. In some "rustbelt" cities, they're responsible for reinvigorating former...  Go to full article

Time's running out on the old GED

39 million Americans, a fifth of the population, never completed high school, one of the factors used to measure literacy rates. Of those, only about 1% earn a GED...  Go to full article
A freshman is flanked by vocabulary words at Fenger Academy High School in Chicago. Photos: Lina Lutton, WBEZ

A high school confronts its reading troubles

Earlier this week, we learned what life has been like for a man who's just learning to read and write at age 48. He remembers shame at school dances, and being shunned as...  Go to full article
Photo: dolanh via Flickr

Can TV make kids better readers?

More than two decades ago, the Federal Communications Commission enacted the Children's Education Act. The goal was to increase the amount of children's educational...  Go to full article

Storytime sows seeds for lifelong literacy

This week we're looking at literacy in the North Country. Yesterday, we heard what it's like to live without knowing how to read or write, and the challenges and rewards of...  Go to full article
Dave King is learning to read with the help of Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County volunteers Peter Kallas (left) and Hilarie Dickson (right). Photo: Kelli Catana, courtesy of Plattsburgh <em>Press-Republican</em>

Escaping a world where words are walls

By some estimates as many as one in eight American adults has extreme difficulty reading and writing. In parts of the North Country, the situation may even be worse, with one...  Go to full article

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