posted by Elizabeth Fama
Literacy on the South Side
While there are no specific data about literacy rates in Chicago, the 2000 census and 2005 census estimate do report education attainment levels (unfortunately, a high school diploma is not a guarantee of literacy). In two neighborhoods adjacent to Hyde Park (Woodlawn and Bronzeville), about 1 in 10 adults over age twenty-five never made it to 9th grade, and about a third never graduated from high school. The WBEZ series 50-50: The Odds of Graduating reports that barely 1/3 of current students at Robeson High School are on track to graduate.
Why the Blue Gargoyle was Unique
Blue Gargoyle offered day and evening classes in literacy and GED, one-on-one tutoring in a welcoming environment, and counseling services for individuals and families, all under one roof. There was a family literacy program, where parents pursued their GED classes and tutoring, while their infants, toddlers, and young children participated in early childhood education. Parents learned not only how to read to kids, but why it was important.
A Bridge Between Communities
The Blue Gargoyle had a clearly defined mission -- one that I think is important for a neighborhood that blends a wealthier, intellectual community with a poorer community that is struggling with inadequate public schools. That's a loss for Hyde Park, and also for the University. Many of the volunteers were local professionals "giving back," and college and graduate students who got teaching and professional experience (along with a warm rapport with their students) by working there. Many of the counselors were Social Service Administration (SSA) students on internship.
The Illinois Secretary of State (who is also the State Librarian) gives out ten Spotlight Awards for outstanding literacy students and tutors. Blue Gargoyle students and tutors received between one and three of these nearly every year.
(Thanks to Betsy Rubin for chatting about the Blue Gargoyle and adult literacy with me. Betsy is the Adult and Family Literacy Specialist at Literacy Works Chicago.)