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Congressional Baseball Game Helps D.C. Adults Get Second Chance at Washington Literacy Center

Students Denise Herbert, Donna Snowden and Luke Adams get warmed up before a reading class as instructor Martha Tansey looks on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Students Denise Herbert, Donna Snowden and Luke Adams get warmed up before a reading class as instructor Martha Tansey looks on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Latisha Powell pointed to a paper pinned to the bulletin board on the bright blue wall and said, “When I came here, I couldn’t write that essay.”  

Powell, 46, was once one of the thousands of adults in the District who do not have basic reading skills.  

But after several months at the Washington Literacy Center, Powell was able to write that essay, about mothers, which began: “Don’t be ashamed.”  

Shaking off the shame that comes with being functionally illiterate is a common experience for the 100 adults the WLC serves each year. Most of them do not have a high school diploma, but have completed 10 to 12 years of education.  

Donna Snowden, 50, said she used to be embarrassed that she could not read, but she no longer felt alone after she came to the WLC. “I said, ‘Whoa, all of them can’t read either?’ I’m not ashamed no more. That’s what helped me back.”  

That sense of camaraderie flows through the classrooms at the WLC, located in the Thurgood Marshall Center just off U Street in Northwest D.C.  

The WLC was able to relocate to the center two years ago with help from funds raised by the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game . Last year, the funds helped the WLC purchase the Wilson Reading System, a teaching technique that breaks down words.  

According to WLC Executive Director Terry Algire, the Wilson system has been extremely successful. “The Wilson Reading System works,” Algire said.  

She said the combination of small class sizes, professional instructors, eight hours of instruction per week and a successful reading system has helped make the WLC an effective program.  

Algire is looking to expand the WLC and incorporate math tutoring as well.  

“While we’re moving students, transitioning students into GED programs, job training programs and employment, what we’re hearing back is, ‘Their reading is really good, now can you help with the math?’ ” Algire said. “So what we’re going to do is find a math program that’s similar in technique to the way Wilson is taught.”  

This year’s 53rd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game donation will be used to research potential math programs and expand pilot projects where the WLC sends instructors to other adult education programs in an effort to reach more adults.  

Algire said an estimated 64,000 to 90,000 adults in D.C. lack basic reading skills, which means just filling out a job application is an arduous task. She also said these adults face an unfair characterization.  

“A lot of times, there’s a stereotype that adults don’t care,” said Algire, who added that the adults who drop out of high school are not apathetic. Instead, they are frustrated by learning differences that do not coincide with standard teaching techniques.  

For students like Powell, the WLC is a place to learn what she was not able to learn in school. “I love it here,” she said.  

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