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Discovery through words
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 After years of hard work teaching area adults fundamental reading skills, Newton County READS is within grasping distance of a long-standing goal - to see the county officially recognized as a Certified Literate Community.

When Newton County first applied to the Georgia Council on Adult Literacy in 2001 to participate in the literacy program, 40.3 percent of county residents 25 and older had not completed high school or received a GED, according to the U.S. Census figures of the time. The newly formed Newton READS then set the 10-year goal of providing literacy services to at least half of the 11,938 residents 16 years and older without a GED.

Newton READS has since reached that goal and beyond, tutoring more than 5,970 students since 2001. That number includes students who have obtained their GED or improved by at least one reading level or received at least 12 hours of tutoring.

Janet Hodges, executive director of Newton READS, which serves as an umbrella organization for adult literacy programs in the county, brims with pride as she talks about the many students who have been helped by literacy training - people, who for whatever reasons had fallen through the cracks of public school systems, but have now found a niche where they can learn and thrive.

"These are students who for them, school was not a good situation," Hodges said.

Hodges said she is putting together the final application to the Certified Literate Community Program for recognition of the county's gains in adult literacy. Hodges said she expects officials with the CLCP program will come to the county in October for a formal review of Newton READS and its umbrella programs.

On a drizzly Wednesday morning at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, the halls of the church's education building hummed with the voices of students and their tutors going over the day's lessons, which depending on the student's needs could be basic phonics, writing, social studies or geometry. Tutors, many of them retired educators, worked with students one-on-one and in small groups.

"People are having a good time. No one is ridiculing," Hodges said of the learning environment fostered through the county's adult literacy programs.

In a small classroom, Linda Shore, a retired flight attendant, walks around the room observing her group of middle-aged students as they work on phonic exercises with laptops (donated by a grant from Verizon) that have specialized programs for teaching adults with learning disabilities. After the computers, the students move to the dry erase paper spread out on the walls where they spell out single-syllable words deliberately enunciated by Shore and mark up the vowels.

"I just like coming here," said Sara English, 40, one of Shore's students who has been attending literacy classes for about a year. English's face breaks into a shy broad smile as she talks about how much she loves coming to class.

Molika Phillips, 30, who had dyslexia as a child, has been taking basic adult literacy classes for more than a month. Phillips said she decided to seek help to learn to read in order to further her dream of one day opening a Christian daycare center.

"The teachers are very sweet and kind. They teach us very well," Phillips said. "Since I've been here a month, I've learned so much. I love coming here."

Amber and April Vaughn, who are 18-year-old identical twins and dress exactly alike, down to their matching strawberry shaped necklaces, decided to get their GEDs through Newton READS because the Special Ed diplomas they received after graduating from Alcovy High School area not going to open up many job opportunities for them.

Three weeks into their GED program, the girls' areas of study include math, science and writing. Once they earn their GEDs, the girls hope to go to a technical college for two years before possibly transferring to a four-year college degree program. April wants to major in business administration with the goal of running a hotel one day, while Amber is interested in a career in either law enforcement or the medical field.

Amber described the tutoring she is receiving now as "way more helpful than high school."

Compared to their high school experience, where Amber said teachers assumed they were already familiar with the material the rest of their classmates were learning, the tutors at Newton READS don't assume and don't mind working with the girls one-on-one to go over lessons.

"In the past, there have been people with a high school level [diploma] and they couldn't read at a first grade or second grade reading level," Hodges said, adding that since graduation testing has been introduced in the state, resulting in fewer social promotions, the percentage of recent high school graduates coming to Newton READS for extra help has fallen.

The number of people who have earned Special Ed diplomas and are looking to earn their GEDs has increased as well, Hodges said.

In fiscal year 2007, 14 students obtained their GEDs through Newton READS Hodges said. That number is expected to increase this year as student enrollment in GED courses has greatly increased.

Newton READS is in its third year of offering the GED program and has plans to begin offering classes at a second location at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Covington, which already offers adult literacy classes. Hodges said volunteer tutors for the new GED program are needed.

According to Hodges, the adult literacy and GED classes offered by Newton READS and other facilitators in the county such as DeKalb Technical College, Project Adventure and The Learning Center, are having a ripple effect on not only the adults who go through the programs but also on their family members.

"It's not only teaching people to read, it's exposing them to the world," Hodges said. "Each one of those people ... are spreading education to their children. It's setting in motion changes in their families to break these past patterns."

For more information on Newton READS visit their Web site at or call (678) 342-7943.