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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Literacy class celebrates International Literacy Day

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Walid Hanna discusses life in Iraq on Tuesday while improving his Enlish.
SIKESTON - Walid (pronounced Wah-leed) Hanna fielded questions from his fellow students Tuesday morning at the Adult Education and Literacy service site in Sikeston.

"Why don't you tell how much money your wife earned'' someone requested.

Hanna explained his wife, who worked as a doctor in Iraq, earned $2.25 (in U.S. dollars) per month which could buy about two pounds of "good meat," Hanna pointed out.

"I don't understand," said 19-year-old student Sean Lee of Sikeston. 'That's not a lot of meat. You can't even make Hamburger Helper with that."

The 53-year-old Iraqi native wasn't telling his life story just to be telling it, he had a different agenda -- to improve his English speaking skills.

Hanna was the last branch of his family to come to the United Sates. His mother, brothers, aunts and uncles were already in America when he, his wife and two sons, obtained their immigration papers in April 2002.

In July, the family received their green cards.

Although Hanna taught at universities in Iraq and has earned the equivalent of a master's degree, he still feels his English could use some improvement

"The best way to improve is to talk to people," Hanna concluded.

So for the past year or so Hanna communicating with the students and using computer programs at the Sikeston R-6 Adult Education and Literacy service site. Hanna feels if his English is better, he has a better chance of obtaining his ultimate goal - to teach at a university in the United States.

"Walid's attendance is a great for two reasons: He improves his English pronunciation, and the students get a great chance to learn about him," noted Howard Parker, director of Adult Education and Literacy program for Sikeston R-6.

Today marks International Literacy Day - a day to focus attention on worldwide literacy issues and needs. To celebrate students at Sikeston's AEL site will watch a special Webcast presentation by the National Institute for Literacy today from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Adults who need to learn English are a growing segment of the adult-student population, and more than 12,000 of Missouri's AEL students last year were not native English speakers.

In Missouri, the Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) section of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administers programs that help adults learn to read and write English and substantially raise their educational levels.

It's estimated that 875 million of the world's adults do not know how to read or write. According to Parker, the Bootheel has the highest rate of illiteracy in the state and the highest rate of non-high school graduates.

During 2003-2004, more than 65,000 adult students took advantage of AEL services at 45-full service sites and 678 satellite locations across the state. In this area, Sikeston R-6 School District and Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in East Prairie provide service sites.

AEL programs throughout the state offers classes in literacy, GED preparation and English as a Second Language (ESL). Classes are offered at various times and locations to meet the needs of adult students.

Students at local sites have access to resources such as diagnostic exams, books and practice tests to help prepare them for taking the GED exam. Eligible GED students are adults, 16 or older, who have less than a high school education and are not enrolled in school.

Sikeston's AEL has satellite programs in Caruthersville, Hayti, Portageville, New Madrid, and sometimes Charleston and Steele. "What's great about AEL is the individualized tests and the students work at their own pace," Parker said. "If they miss, they won't get behind, and if they move quickly, the can advance to a higher level."

With the growing number of Missouri residents who are not native English speakers, instruction in basic literacy skills has become an increasingly important aspect of adult education, and an increasing number of AEL programs now offer ESL classes.

Approximately 46 percent of graduated high school seniors did not pass the current GED test so it's tough enough to be worthy; however 54 percent did pass it so it's a fair test, Parker said.

"Walid just wants to do what he loves," Lee said of his classmate.

Lee was promised home schooling but due to financial differences, it didn't happen, he said.

"I was forced to work, and I had a baby (to support)," explained Lee.

Lee attended New Horizons School in Sikeston, but had attendance problems due to working and learned of AEL, he said. By utilizing AEL, Lee said he can follow a more flexible schedule. It's since then Lee said he's learned everybody needs education.

"Society is beginning to be where you have to have a high school diploma to flip burgers," said Lee, who recently began the program.

And the GED is highly respected, Lee said, adding there are some people who would rather hire people with GEDs because they know they want to get work.

Lee said, looking around his classroom: "I don't know about these people, but I'm here to finish -- to get done."

Sikeston's Adult Education and Literacy service site, located on Greer Street, is open Monday through Friday and Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For more information, call (573) 471-9469.