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One Book One New Orleans battles low literacy rates

21st September 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Travis Andrews
The Louisiana Weekly

New Orleans is binding together over literature.

One Book One New Orleans, a pro­gram of the Youth Leadership Council partnered with the New Orleans Public Library, Books2Pri­soners and the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans, is a citywide attempt to raise awareness about the epidemic of low rates of adult literary. The program includes several events, all — as the title implies — centered around one book: Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Life, and Death, by Dan Baum. The book is partly fiction and partly non-fiction and follows the lives of nine New Orleanians.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, “One in six adults in Louisiana reads at the lowest literacy level,” a fact executive director of the Literacy Alliance Rachel Nicolosi is trying to combat.

Nicolosi said lower rates of literacy are higher among the older population, who came through the schooling system before learning disabilities such as dyslexia were discovered and properly understand or accepted. The problem snowballed from there, since a child with low-literacy parents have a far less likely chance to be fully literate themselves.

“If kids go home and their parents can’t read enough to help them … or if they can’t keep a job … that affects children’s learning as well,” Nicolosi said. “If you care about children’s literacy, you need to care about adult literacy as well.”

The problem becomes more sinewy when the stigma many people feel attached with literacy comes into play.

“One of the reasons we still have low literacy is there’s a lot of stigma and shame associated for it,” Nicolosi said.

She said this, coupled with the fact that the public doesn’t want to pay for eduction for persons older than 18, can create problems that weedle into society. Those with low rates of literacy have trouble finding work, thus are more likely to turn to crime. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, “Lou­isiana spent less than $40 in state general funds per student in Adult Basic Education.”

In contrast, according to the Louisiana Department of Cor­rections, “Louisiana spends almost $40 per day to incarcerate an adult.”

“I think it’s a backwards argument, because it doesn’t cost that much to educate people,” Nicolosi said. “It’s really short sighted that it doesn’t get the public support that it needs.”

And that’s where programs like One Book One New Orleans come in.

“The goal is to promote citywide adult literacy,” said director Madeline Murphy. “For as long as we’ve been doing it, we’ve been trying to pick books that have something to do with New Orleans … we try to find a way to tie it to the city.”

The program, which has grown every year since its inception in 2004, will host a variety of events this year with the goal of making literacy fun and communal.

“We have a night where we work with Books2Prisoners to help them gather books and put packages together to send to prisoners,” Murphy said. “We’re doing a film screening at the sculpture garden in the New Orleans Museum of Art.”

There are nine events in all, listed below, and each one was created to appeal to a different set of people in an attempt to get everyone involved.

“What’s nice about one book as a whole is there’s generally one event that you’ll be interested in,” Murphy said.

Also helping sponsor the program is STAIR, which stands for Start the Adventure in Reading. Executive Director Sara Woodard said, “It’s a non-profit but after school program that uses volunteers from the community … to tutor second graders.”

The program tutors children one-on-one for a year, and serves about 250 children at 28 sites, which covers 30 schools with 350 trained community volunteers.

“We stick with that child for the entire second grade, and he gets graduated from STAIR, and the next year we get another second grader,” Woodard said.

During this time, the program works to raise literacy rates among second graders but also to make them feel better about themselves.

“Our mission basically is to teach young children reading skills, but also the second part of it is to boost their self-esteem,” Woodard said. Many children don’t read because they feel like they can’t, a notion STAIR disagrees with and works to change.

“We see not a lot of emphasis on reading in the home, and not a lot of books, at least books at their level,” she said, which is one of the many reasons children might have lower literacy rates.

“[Solving literacy is] like saying you want to solve poverty, people just can’t get their arms around it,” Nicolosi said, but One Book One New Orleans is a start.

Upcoming One Book One New Orleans Events:
• A Sneak Peek at “Nine Lives: The Musical” — Sept. 20, Kajun’s Pub, 2256 St. Claude Ave., NOLA 70117.
• A Night of Networking: Young Professional Happy Hour — Sept 26, Hermes Bar, Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 St. Louis St., NOLA 70130.
• Giving the Gift of Literacy: Get Involved with Books To Prisoners — Oct 2, YLC Headquarters, 1840 Euterpe St., NOLA 70113.
• From The Mouthpiece On Back”: An outdoor film screening at New Orleans Museum of Art — October 5, Sculpture Garden, New Orleans Museum of Art, One Collins C. Diboll Circle, City Park, NOLA 70124.
• Dinner With Dan Baum — October 13, Dooky Chase Restaurant, 2301 Orleans Ave., NOLA 70119
Tenth Life Essay Contest — September 7 – October 7.
• Children’s Art Project: In Conjunction With Community Works of Louisiana and The International School — September.
• One Book One New Orleans Finale Event — Oct. 19, New Orleans Healing Center, 2372 St. Claude Ave., NOLA 70117.

This article originally published in the September 19, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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