Editorial | Diagnosis of early learning problems key factor in tackling illiteracy

August 10, 2013 

  • Can you help?

    The Horry County Literacy Council is looking for volunteers to tutor children and adults and for financial support to help train the tutors. HCLC receives no federal or state grants.

    Online | www.literacyhc.org

    Email | literacyhc@gmail.com

    Phone | 843-839-1695

    Mail | 3101 Oak Street

    Myrtle Beach SC 29577

    Hours | 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday - Thursday

Illiteracy has several faces in Georgetown and Horry counties, ranging from basic reading or math skills to computer illiteracy. Overall illiteracy rates for Horry and Georgetown counties are 30 percent. ``That’s always amazing to people,’’ says Virginia Simmons, adult education director for Horry County Schools.

It’s often an undiagnosed learning disability such as dyslexia that makes it difficult to learn reading. Once properly diagnosed, a dyslexic child or adult can be reading in a few months.

Learning difficulties have affected one of Georgetown County’s most prominent and successful families, the Geathers. Robert Geathers Sr. and Debra have three sons who are expected to be on active rosters in the National Football League. The unique family is the subject of a series of articles by Issac J. Bailey. One of the sons, and his father, the family’s first NFL player, experienced learning difficulties. They are telling their stories in part because they feel it may bring about deeper discussion of issues such as literacy in the South.

The Horry County Literacy Council has taken a new direction to help persons with dyslexia. Pat Santaniello says the success rate is in the 90 percentiles. One of her success stories is a 9-year-old boy at risk of being held back in third grade. He was reading at the first grade level. In less than a year, with tutoring twice a week and help at home the other days, he was reading at his grade level.

A dyslexic herself -- she is the fourth generation in her family with the condition -- Santaniello and former literacy council director Pat Bush started the dyslexia program three years ago.

“The change was of necessity,’’ Santaniello says, because the former one-on-one tutoring has a much lower success rate. A 51-year-old man was in the former program for years and could not read a street sign. He was diagnosed with dyslexia and in less than two years “he can take notes, read blueprints.’’

This is “family literacy at its best,’’ she says.

Another area literacy effort is Literacy Alive, a program of the Waccamaw Community Foundation, which has worked to increase public awareness of the need for improving literacy in Horry and Georgetown counties. The coalition includes a variety of education, business and community leaders. Literacy Alive has also received funding from The Knight Foundation and the TD Charitable Foundation.

“Literacy Alive’s most public presence was seen at River Read, which took place in Conway on April 20,” wrote marketing consultant Robin Kavanagh via email. “ WCF and Literacy Alive were sponsors and deeply involved in the planning and execution of this first-ever event, which focused on fostering a love of reading in the community.’’

The HCLC program has at least 60 students and at least 25 volunteers. Thirty more students are waiting for a match with a tutor. Tutors need 12 to 20 hours per level and there are 10 levels.

“I teach them as we go,’’ Santaniello says. “What we need is money, money, money.’’

The HCLC received accreditation from ProLiteracy in 2012. “We do not diagnose’’ dyslexia. That’s done by a neuropsychologist, she says. “We offer an alternative way of learning.’’ Executive director Debbie Terpening, who followed Pat Bush, says recruitment for volunteers is ongoing. Besides tutoring, volunteers are needed for the board and for fundraising and marketing.

Simmons and her HCS staff tackle computer literacy as well as basic literacy. “There are a lot of different kinds of literacy,’’ Simmons says. HCS has adult education centers in Conway and Myrtle Beach and satellite programs in Loris, Goodwill in Little River and North Myrtle Beach, J. Reuben Long Detention Center, the S.C. Rehabilitation Center, Conway, and the Myrtle Beach Historic Colored School.

Approximately 32 teachers, most part-time, serve about 1,500 adults. Simmons is justly proud the annual cost is $1,088 per student -- that compares to at least $7,000 per student in high schools. The adult center in Conway also directs regional training for teachers and administrators in 11 S.C. school districts.

lliteracy rates tend to be higher among lower income families, Simmons said. “Computer illiteracy is across the board.’’

Last year, HCS adult centers added a computer literacy test and offers instruction. “We do a lot of learning online,’’ Simmons says. The adult centers offer preparation work for high school and General Educational Development diplomas, the test required for Horry Georgetown Technical College and the ACT and SAT for universities such as Coastal Carolina University. Beginning this week, “we will not be charging for registration,’’ which can mean a savings of as much of $150 for a computer GED.

Literacy efforts are ground-zero for South Carolina, in its struggle to create a thriving 21st century manufacturing and business environment. We strongly urge individuals to get involved in one way or another, and state funding decision-makers to make this a priority item on their expense lists.

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