- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

Juanita Jones couldn't run errands most people take for granted, such as trips to the grocery store, to the bank or even to the drugstore without a friend tagging along. She didn't need company around the clock. She needed someone who could read.
For many years, the words on the back of a cereal box or a government document looked like hieroglyphics to her. That challenge has changed, thanks to a D.C. literacy program.
Her face lit up yesterday, when a reporter asked her to read a sign a few feet away. Ms. Jones got it letter perfect. "Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library," she read aloud.
"I don't have to have anyone with me anymore," said Ms. Jones, 37. "I feel good about what I've accomplished."
She says she owes her teachers at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute in Northeast for her newfound independence. She started taking adult education classes in February. At times, she was frustrated as she tried to sound out words, but her teachers refused to allow her to give up.
Ms. Jones spent yesterday morning on a brisk walk in the October sunshine with several hundred of her classmates and friends of the literacy program, including D.C. council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.
Traditions must start somewhere, and the organization that pays the bill to teach the District's illiterate residents to read decided its yearly custom would be a "3K Walk for Literacy." The walkers would begin at a special place, where reading is revered the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at 9th and G streets in Northwest.
The adult education program of the University of the District of Columbia State Education Agency (SEA), which funds adult literacy programs throughout the city, and the Booker T. Washington Public Charter School in Northwest organized the walk. They designed the walk to highlight the need for more money. Just as it takes money to make money, organizers know it takes money to make readers.
Silvia Arias, 32, brought up the rear in the 45-minute downtown jaunt. Her pace didn't bother her one bit. A mother of four who lives in Mount Pleasant, Mrs. Arias came out to support a cause that's helped her improve her life. A native of Mexico, she takes ESL (English as a Second Language) courses at the Mary Center in Northwest. Learning English is not just nice to do in her world; she must do it, if her family is to prosper.
"First of all, I want to be able to help my children with their schoolwork," she said. "I want to be able to talk with their teachers. I want to be able to talk with my doctor."
Like Ms. Jones, Mrs. Arias also had to have a friend along when she looked for work, someone to help her fill out job applications.
She says the "Even Start" program at the Mary Center has been a lifesaver. During one of her pregnancies, she recalled being in excruciating pain and unable to tell the doctor how much it hurt, and where it hurt. All she could do was scream in pain, she said.
"Adult education classes are very important, and I know many others who want to take classes but there's a long waiting list. Maybe, if there was more money, more classes could be offered," Mrs. Arias said.
The Even Start program allows Mrs. Arias to bring her children with her. While she's learning, so are they, she said. The program has four components which include family literacy, parent and child time together, early childhood education and community involvement.
What's most important to Mrs. Arias is being able to help her children with their homework and to keep them motivated to learn. A defining moment for her was when she found out one of her sons has a learning disability.
"I knew then, that I had to learn I had to get an education," she said.
That's the point, K. Brisbane wants to make. Ms. Brisbane is the adult education director of the D.C. State Education Agency. Children imitate their parents, if the parent is interested in learning, there's a strong likelihood the child will follow suit, said Ms. Brisbane, a stalwart when it comes to education.
She and others fighting for funds to teach adults to read do not like the word illiterate, because it cuts so close to the bone. Words hurt. Adult learners will be reluctant to take reading classes if they fear they will be mocked. "We've got to change the perception of those who need literacy services."
Ms. Brisbane says the city needs to spend at least ten times the $3 million spent last year in local and federal money.
"We have to make adult literacy a priority," she said. "Because parents can [then help] their children in school."

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