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More volunteer tutors are coming to Buffalo Public Schools

Efforts continue to increase reading scores. Meanwhile, the problem of adult illiteracy remains pervasive.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Read to Succeed Buffalo has announced a major expansion of its tutoring program in Buffalo Public Schools.

But that's only part of the story when it comes to attacking illiteracy in the community.

According to a recent story by our news partners at Investigate Post, less than 25% of elementary school students in the Buffalo Public Schools are reading at grade level.

Anne Ryan, the executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo, said that the hiring of four new staff members will allow the agency to be able to train nearly double the number of volunteer tutors they currently have, therefore doubling (to 330) the number of young children in Buffalo schools who are reading below grade level, and who they can help.

"These students need individualized attention," Ryan said. "Children learn to read, and to talk, and to communicate, and to listen by example, and through interaction, not by watching TV or screens."

As efforts ramp up to assist children in becoming more proficient readers, however, the problem of adult illiteracy remains pervasive in the city.

"When people think of literacy problems, they always think of children," said Amy Mazur, director of operations for Literacy Buffalo Niagara, an agency that offers reading and language services to adults.

Twenty years ago a study determined that 30% of adults in the City of Buffalo were functionally illiterate.

Two decades later, that rate remains at least the same, if not higher, according to Mazur, who says there are numerous dynamics at play.

This includes the infusion of thousands of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have come to the city in the past decade, for whom many English is a new language. In edition, some of them may not have attended much school in their native lands, and therefore never learned to read and write in their own tongue.

According to Mazur, this adds to the population of adults who would be considered functionally illiterate in English every day.

Even teaching an adult born and raised in Buffalo to read presents many challenges.

"Working with adults is incredibly difficult," said Mazur, who noted that a child who struggles with reading can get help in school, which in some respect is the only "job" that child has. But that's not the case for grownups.

"They have to balance their adult responsibilities of jobs, families, and taking care of their house and their health with their need to learn English and reading," she said. "We only work with students two hours a week, so we have to make it as worthwhile as possible."

Another challenge is the existing amount of resources for the estimated 140,000 adults in Erie and Niagara counties who are either functionally illiterate or struggle enough with reading to potentially qualify for literacy services.

"Our program realistically, can serve maybe 150 of those people per year," Mazur said.

You can help

Both Literacy Buffalo Niagara, which assists illiterate adults, and Read to Succeed Buffalo, which endeavors to keep today's children from join those ranks, are in need of volunteer tutors, whom they will train.

For information on how to become a volunteer reading tutor working with adults for Literacy Buffalo Niagara, click here.

For information on how to become a volunteer reading tutor working with children Pre-K to third grade for Read to Succeed Buffalo, click here.

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