For Antonio Ward, the hardest part was admitting that he couldn’t read.
“I did well in elementary school, but not in middle school,” he said. “I couldn’t read like the other kids. By high school, I was ashamed. I was getting older and hanging with the wrong kind of kids.”
Ward dropped out of high school. He tried to get into a GED program but could not pass the assessment test. Then he found the Washington Literacy Center, a nonprofit designed to serve adults in the greater Washington community who struggle with basic reading skills. Initially intimidated, Ward found the WLC staff to be nice, friendly and encouraging.
“I just like being here, period,” Ward said, speaking to an audience at a WLC reception at the Thurgood Marshall Center in the U Street neighborhood. “I have perfect attendance.”
Ward plans to receive his GED diploma and then get a job in construction or carpentry.
“I see the world differently because I can read stuff,” he explained.
It is students like Ward who will benefit from additional funds provided to the Washington Literacy Center. Each year, part of the proceeds from the CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game go to the WLC, which has a long history of success in the D.C. region.
Re-Entry Point for Education
Terry Algire, the WLC’s executive director, estimates that there are 64,000 to 90,000 adults in the D.C. area who read below a fifth-grade level.
“They can’t get GEDs, they can’t get into a job training program or complete a job application,” Algire explained. “Our goal is to improve basic reading skills.”
Algire said students who come to the WLC struggle to complete a job application without assistance. After several months in the program, they are better prepared for the workforce and able to take the next steps toward their life goals.
“We serve as a re-entry point for education,” Algire said. “One hundred percent of our students are determined to improve their reading to take the next step in their long-term education or employment goals.”
This year, the funds provided by the Congressional Baseball Game will go toward purchasing the Wilson Reading System, a teaching program that focuses on the structure of language. Students sound out words by “tapping” their fingers.
“There is a formula for sounding out a word,” said Yolanda Jones, a WLC instructor. “This provides the tools.”
For the past year, students have been using the system as part of a pilot program. It’s been so successful that Algire and the WLC board have decided to use it for future classes.
Many students have relied on memorization and guesses for words for most of their lives; transitioning to a multi-sensory method such as the Wilson Reading System allows the student to break down the word into manageable parts.
In a demonstration, students Linda Coleman and Timarra Smith pick up magnetic cards with consonants, vowels and a digraph — a pair of letters making a single sound. Tapping their fingers on their palms, they show a small audience how they decode the word. C-A-T. And then, CH-A-T.
“Most people know how to spell words, but they don’t know why they spell it like that,” Ward said. Ward’s presentation is focused on the 1-1-1 rule, which shows how verbs are modified.
The rule states that words of one syllable that end in a single consonant that are immediately preceded by a single vowel double the consonant before a suffixal vowel ( such as “ing” or “ed”) but not before a suffixal consonant (such as “tion”).
Using the 1-1-1 rule, he explained that “run” adds an extra consonant before the “ing” ending, but a world like “help” does not.
One audience member was amused to learn the breakdown of such rules.
“I never knew that,” he said.
Last year’s funds from the Congressional Baseball Game went toward building a new space on the third floor of the Thurgood Marshall Building, at 12th and R streets Northwest.
The new space has three classrooms and private office space for caseworkers.
“This year, we had an 81 percent [student] retention rate,” Algire
As more students take advantage of the WLC, they can start to envision a different future. Shakia Dozier dropped out of high school because her struggles with reading kept her farther behind her peers. Now a WLC student, she speaks of her future in confident tones.
“One day I want to get my GED,” Dozier said. “I don’t know what kind of career I want — but I know I want a career.”
And then the Washington Literacy Center will have one more successful graduate to add to its long list.
The 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game is Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Tickets can be purchased at congressionalbaseball.org.