Illinois Secretary of State visits SWIC, awards grant for adult literacy program

Southwestern Illinois College’s adult volunteer literacy program received a state grant to expand its efforts in the metro-east Monday afternoon.

Project READ helps adults in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe and Randolph counties improve their literacy by pairing them with volunteer tutors. The program has been supported by the Office of the Secretary of State, who also serves as the state librarian, since its inception.

“Any chance we can provide resources, funding, attention towards literacy, but especially adult literacy, we think it’s not just great for these families and individuals, for their job prospects, but it’s great for the local economy,” Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said.

He said adult literacy has been a priority of his and the current administration, especially with literacy rates dropping post-COVID-19.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20% of Illinois’ population has a literacy proficiency at or below level one, which signifies functional illiteracy. This means Illinois is behind 30 other states that have higher levels of literacy.

With the $77,207 grant, SWIC’s Literacy Coordinator Jenny Margarida said she hopes to reach more learners, including by getting back into St. Clair County Jail to tutor inmates, which the program did before the pandemic.

Mereadith Shivers, SWIC’s director of adult education, said the grant will also allow them to provide more materials like bookbags and gas cards to students who need them.

The program currently has 60 learners and 59 tutors, Margarida said.

One example of how the program affects people’s lives, she said, is an international student who came to the program because she wanted to become a certified nursing assistant.

In her home country, her parents made her leave school around first grade to work and pay for her six siblings to go to school. When she later came to the United States, she started caring for elderly people in their homes and wanting to be a CNA, but her literacy levels were so low that she wouldn’t be able to take the classes and get certified, Margarida said.

Now, after tutoring for over 60 hours, she’s at a third grade reading level and closer to reaching her goal.

“She was so happy when she tested and she scored higher,” Margarida said. “She started crying, and … it was emotional and such a great day.”

She said the grant from the secretary of state is “going to allow us to reach more people and help change their lives really for the better, give them hope.”