Feb 28 2005
Tutors share gift of reading
Library’s tutoring program allows adults to advance in their careers
or just read to their kids.
By Karen Apostolina, Weekend
Aida Amirian is from Iran and speaks three languages, Armenian,
Persian and English. But she really wanted to be able to read books
written in English to her 4-year-old daughter.
While looking around the Burbank Central Library one day, she spotted
a flier advertising free tutoring for reading and writing. She called
the number and four months later, mother and daughter are doing very
“The goal of reading to her daughter was very important to her,” said
Robert Navarro, her tutor. “She brings her books here … and any
hard words are worked out, so she can feel comfortable.”
Another of Amirian’s goals is to go to college, and now that her
proficiency in reading has improved, that could become a reality.
Many of her friends hadn’t heard about the library’s literacy
“But, it is a very good program for reading fast … so, I tell my
friends,” she said. “This is a good program for everybody.”
One out of every five people is functionally illiterate, said William
S. Byrne, literacy coordinator for the library. A lot of energy goes
into masking the problem until they want to read to their children,
or they get passed over for another promotion at work. For those who
are ready to make the commitment — help is available.
To enroll in the program, adults must be 18 and older, read below a
sixth-grade level and speak conversational English, although they
don’t need to be native speakers. Recruiting adults to be tutored
(called learners) can be tough, Byrne said. That’s why the library
has regular orientation meetings. The next one is at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“Illiterate adults always think they are the only person in the world
with this problem,” Byrne said. “The orientation is a chance for them
to walk into a room and see that they are not alone.”
Often high school — even college — graduates can’t read, Byrne
said. They may work in construction, the entertainment industry or
restaurants, but their illiteracy keeps them stuck in low-level
Millie Engel, a volunteer tutor, believes that everyone can read.
People seek help when they get tired of covering the fact that they
can’t, she said.
“They have to decide they want to learn,” Engel said. “When they come
here, they’re adults and they know what they want in life now.”
Engel, a retired elementary school teacher, wanted to give something
back to the community. After completing the 15-hour training session,
she signed up for six months — then stayed for 10 years.
Health problems or constantly having to relocate are among the many
reasons people never learn to read, Byrne said. There is an
assumption that reading is easy. But, those who learn — are just the
“Basically, if a child isn’t reading by fourth grade in school, they
will fall behind, because after fourth grade … they aren’t teaching
reading anymore,” Byrne said. “Those kids will stay behind unless
remediation is available, and with school budgets being cut right and
left, nobody has money for that.”
Using Discover-Intensive Phonics, learners work with computer
software to hear sounds and understand how language is formed. They
also practice, authentic reading which includes notes from school,
books, utility bills and other everyday forms of text.