Almost half of all adults in the Dallas area cannot read at a fourth-grade level. Imagine the disadvantages. Writing down directions, reading a bus schedule or a recipe, filing taxes, reading a medicine bottle, helping kids with their homework — all of those are difficult or impossible for the illiterate.
Since she retired from her job as a postal service manager almost six years ago, Sandy McFeeley of Wynnewood has made it her business to help people learn to read. She volunteers with Literacy Instruction for Texas, one of the only organizations in the state that offers adult reading classes. “It was something I always knew I wanted to do,” she says. “And L.I.F.T. was about the last adult literacy program on the landscape.”
Some of her students are immigrants who are learning English. Many of them have high school diplomas. They are parents, grandparents, business owners and managers. McFeeley teaches morning classes, and some students arrive after working night shifts. “They all bring an awful lot to the table,” she says. “They’re the most motivated crowd I’ve seen.”
McFeeley, by the way, is also a practicing attorney. “I used to teach lawyers how to write simple declarative sentences,” she says. “This is a lot easier and much more rewarding.” Most of McFeeley’s students can read at a second- or third-grade level when they start, and she works from a curriculum that L.I.F.T. developed.
She noticed the night classes had reading groups, so she started one for her morning students, too. They meet on Monday and Wednesday mornings to discuss their book and read aloud. She usually picks Newberry Award-winning books because they’re children’s books that are interesting enough to hold an adult’s attention.
“It’s great because they’re engaged in the story, and they’re not as reserved,” she says. “They encourage each other. There’s a lot of mutual support.”
McFeeley notes there is no place south of the Trinity that offers literacy classes for adults. “What we really need is an organization with a building and a willingness to house a program like this. That would just be the greatest thing,” she says. “There ought to be something here in the ’hood.”