Words by Julie Lyssy

Photography by Dawn Skinner

How different would your life be if you were unable to read? For some courageous adults in Hood County, they will get the chance to find out.

Imagine for a moment that you spent most of your life unable to do exactly what you are doing right now — reading.  How different would your life be if you were unable to read? Would you view yourself differently?  Would other people think differently of you if they knew you could not read?

For Richard, those questions were his reality for 75 years. You see, when Richard grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, education did not include testing or educational modification to account for learning disabilities. Educational challenges were met with more of a ‘mind over matter’ proposition.

Richard managed to get through school using his football prowess and classmate’s help as a means to continue. After leaving school, he found a job on a ranch in the Panhandle. He met a beautiful girl, married, had children and now enjoys being a grandfather. He accomplished all of this without being able to read.  

When occasions occurred that reading was necessary, his wife handled the situation with so much grace and ease that no one ever realized the secret he held.

Then Karen Haggard came into his life and nothing has been the same —for either of them.

Karen Haggard, Founder, Hood County Adult Literacy Program

 

Photography by Dawn Skinner

“I began teaching because I love to watch kids learn to read. It fascinates me,” shared Haggard.

After more than 20 years in the classroom, Haggard is shifting her focus back to her first love in the educational world — special education, specifically dyslexia.

Richard is Haggard’s first student on this new path. When his wife met Karen, she brought the two together to help Richard learn reading skills that many adults take for granted. They began with reading assessments to understand his “reading reality.” That is when Karen discovered he has a severe form of dyslexia. This set the course for determining the best ways to help him learn to read. After more than a year, Richard has moved through to the fourth of 10 levels of the Barton Reading and Spelling System®; a teaching approach designed for people with reading challenges. If he chooses to complete all 10 levels, he will read at a mid-ninth grade level.

Haggard’s quest to help Richard initially led her to the Hood County Library to borrow materials to help in his education. To her surprise, they did not have any. This turned her to the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), a statewide resource for literacy learning. This too proved to be a disheartening realization. There were no adult literacy resources in Hood County.

This stark outlook became Haggard’s inspiration to be a catalyst for change in the adult literacy arena for Hood County.  

“One in five American adults do not operate at the functional level [of sixth grade],” explained Haggard. “For those who did not grow up when teaching methods were available to help, they are still impaired by their condition. In the early 1990’s when I was in college, dyslexia was discussed, but no formal methods for overcoming it were taught.”

She went back to the library and spoke with Library Director Karen Rasco about starting a free adult literacy program for Hood County. Rasco willingly partnered with Haggard to begin helping more people expand a love for learning through reading.

“One in five American adults do not operate at the functional level [of sixth grade],” explained Haggard. “For those who did not grow up when teaching methods were available to help, they are still impaired by their condition. In the early 1990’s when I was in college, dyslexia was discussed, but no formal methods for overcoming it were taught.”

Throughout 2016, Haggard and Rasco have worked to develop a program to help adults with reading challenges and complete the infrastructure to make it possible.

Haggard pictured, coaching volunteers of the program.

Photography by Dawn Skinner

Their first milestone was acquiring a site license for the Barton Reading and Spelling System so multiple tutors can utilize the system without incremental user fees. This is exciting as it allows the program to expand without the budget expanding.

The second milestone was successfully recruiting volunteer tutors to teach one on one with “struggling adult readers.” To be a tutor one needed to be 18 years or older, able to pass the Barton Tutor Screening and able to commit two to three hours each week for at least nine months per student. Volunteers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. There is no prerequisite training required. The training for the program itself can be all self-administered online in your home or at the library. To date, Haggard is training 12 volunteers to begin teaching in January of 2017.

The third milestone is one of affirmation and legitimacy. As of September 20, 2016, people using TCALL to seek out literacy resources know that Hood County is available to enhance the reading skills of their friends, neighbors and community, because this new program is now listed as a resource.

The fourth milestone, which will produce the fruit of this labor of love, is for students to self-identify and take advantage of this free program available to them. Each prospective student will be assessed by Haggard before being partnered with a volunteer reading coach. As she illustrated at a recent volunteer recruitment gathering, this process is used to find skills gaps. Once the skills gaps are identified, the best fit and a realistic plan for success can be developed unique to each student.

Richard’s life is forever changed by the choice to tell someone his secret and take action.  Even his children and grandchildren did not know he was functionally illiterate. The frustration, the mental burden and undue shame he felt for so many years has finally ended.

He wants others in similar situations to know that there is no shame in asking for help to overcome challenges to better your quality of life.  There is a lot of living to lose if you choose to keep your secret in the shadows.

For more information about this program , to volunteer or if you know someone who could benefit from it, you should contact Karen Haggard, Adult Literacy Program Director by e-mail at adultliteracy@co.hood.tx.us, call the library (817.573.3569) or go by the library and speak with Karen Rasco, Library Director.