Adult illiteracy is a major issue in Philadelphia, with more than two-thirds of the adult population classified as low literate – meaning they do not have the basic skills necessary for the modern workplace, according to a report published by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.
Center for Literacy (CFL) is a 50-year-old, longstanding institution that works to combat adult illiteracy, and Vann DeLaine, who is an area coordinator for CFL, is doing his part to help.
“We have people from age 17 to age 80, and it’s been one of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had,” said DeLaine, 60, who teaches classes that cover both English and math. He also coordinates and trains tutors who work one-on-one with students.
DeLaine, who works out of the Drexel University Dornsife Center that partnered with CFL two years ago, has been employed by the nonprofit for 20 years. In that time, he has seen it transform from a solely tutor-based endeavor to a large and thriving organization that includes a number of programs designed to benefit Philadelphians looking for a chance to improve their lives through education.
“Center for Literacy gives me the opportunity to actually work with people both on the tutoring side and on the learning side,” DeLaine said. “So to see tutors help learners really reach their goals is an amazing thing.”
With 17 locations spread across the city, CFL provides learning opportunities including Adult Basic Education/GED, English as a Second Language, family literacy classes, tutoring, job readiness, case management and career coaching.
In DeLaine’s class, which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, students expressed great excitement that they would be moving to a separate building on Dornsife’s property known as the “carriage house.” It will have better classrooms than those at their current meeting place in Ryan Hall, as well as more amenities such as textbooks, which they have been forced to do without up to this point.
The new classroom means a lot to DeLaine as well, because it will provide more opportunities for his students.
Shuwen Xiao, 28, a native of China who recently came to America for an extended stay, will soon be one of the newest mentors in the tutoring program. After completing the nine hours of required training, she will be helping students in the ESL program.
“I want to teach English as a Second Language because it is my second language,” said Xiao, who went on to say that, to a tutor, “motivation and passion is the most important thing.”
– Text, images and video by Matt McGraw