Student Patricia Bynes looks up from her book about Sojourner
Truth as reading
Putnam gives a class exercise Tuesday at the
Learning Center in
St. Petersburg. Putnam says she often uses
historical books to help her students work toward a high school diploma.
Story, photos, 10-11
Words never came easy for LeRoy Pompia. With a mom on the run from hurtful men, he missed too many school days to count. By eighth grade, he was so tired of trying to read in front of other kids, he gave up.
But the words would come back to haunt him.
Every time he got a letter. Every time he had to fill out a form. Each of those times, Pompia, a teddy bear of a man with a bad back but an easy nature, would have to swallow his pride and ask for help.
A few months ago, Pompia, now 55, decided enough's enough. Now, twice a week, the former heavy-equipment operator sits with a tutor in a clean, well-lighted place at the Tomlinson Adult Learning Center.
"I got tired of struggling," he said.
In the United States, there are 30-million adults like Pompia. Since 1968, the St. Petersburg Literacy Council has helped thousands of them get over the hump.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the council asked some of its current students, including Pompia, to write their stories.
Many had never written more than a few sentences before. And yet, many teachers can only wish they had as many students who see the connection between words and dreams.
Here are excerpts from their stories, edited slightly for length.
I am 32 years old and have graduated from high school. Would you believe without being able to read? It was a struggle going to school, but I was present, and on time every day, which was probably why I received a high school diploma.
Driving 18-wheelers was a trip without being able to read! I memorized the most important road signs for the Florida license, but when it came to finding an address it was weird.
There were reasons why reading was always on my mind. The first was I wanted to get a better job. The second was to be able to help my new daughter with her homework.
My wife Alexandra has been an inspiration by encouraging me. She helps me study my spelling, and when the baby cries in the middle of the night she lets me sleep.
Joyce Lee Gibson
I used to be afraid to read out loud because I could not read as well as the other kids. This inability has been going on for about sixty years. I thought it was about time I did something about it.
Now, as far as my spelling goes, it's horrible. Too many rules, I can't remember them all. I have not given up though. It used to help me when my mother was alive. We would write back and forth to one another, which helped a little. Now I don't write to anyone, so it's much worse for me.
I have a wonderful friend named Barbara. When we go shopping she writes checks for me to sign. Barbara and her husband George take me to church on Sundays.
My mom took me to the eye glass place. My friend Anna came over to my house by bus. Lunchtime I made spaghetti. My mom took us to the eye glass place and after we took Anna home.
Yesterday my mom and I sent money to my son. I asked the lady if I could see how she sent money, she said "no."
At first, I blamed my mother and father for my dyslexia. Dyslexia means a person who struggles with reading. I never understood why I couldn't read. My intelligence fooled everyone, even my parents. My parents sent me to school and my teachers kept passing me.
When I became an adult, I went back to school but I was not serious. I learned that you must be serious if you have a problem with reading. You need to listen and stop fooling yourself! Focus! Keep your mind on what you need to learn and not what other people think.
I was going through life pretending to have an education. I was having a hard time in my life keeping a job and I didn't have an education to keep it. I had my first grandson and I wanted to read to him a bedtime story.
So I went to the library to ask them to help find me someone to help me to read better. So I waited till they found me the best teacher that could help me and teach me patience to learn to read properly.
So I needed my driver's license to get to school on my own. I studied the questions and answers in my driver's book. I never thought I would get my driver's license but I did. Now I am reading everything when I shop. I turn the box over and read the ingredients for my health because I have to see how much salt is in the food.
I always wanted to go to Hollywood and be a superstar and wear diamond rings but not as badly as I want to learn to read a whole book on my own. I know if I keep coming to school someday I can do it.
I dream about one day I can get a lot out of life. My job would be closer to where I live. I can get an apartment, a wife, a lot of money and a new car, some day.
I know my mother missed her mother. She would talk so much about her and the old days. She felt good when she talked about it. But my mother was getting sick. I didn't know what to do. Her chances are not good. I pray to God to help her and me, but she is getting sicker and sicker. I had to move her to a health center. When she talked to me she said, "they tell me I am dying." I tell her to just shut her eyes and pray you will be okay. God loves you and He will be with you to the end.
My daughter and I currently live with my mother. I am trying to educate myself so that I will be able to better provide for my daughter and myself. If it wasn't for my mother, I would not have a place to live. With the help of my mother, I am able to provide all of the necessities for me and my daughter. My little girl is now 16 months old. I am a proud mother of a beautiful little girl.
I have three or four things that I enjoy in my back yard in the morning between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. I study my GED vocabulary and exercise at the same time. I enjoy listening to the natural music. The music from the ocean waves hitting the sea walls, the wind hitting the sailboat's masts in the canal, and the birds singing in the trees all bring joy to me!
Many birds have different voices, and their voices are beautiful. The seagulls' voices are not as nice as the land birds' voices, I feel. The smallest birds' voices are sweeter than the larger birds' voices. Even the music from the banana trees is different from the music from the big pine trees.
Willie C. Jones
In the 1970s my uncle had a farm in Georgia. He raised tobacco, corn, sugar cane, pigs and sweet potatoes. We planted the tobacco, weeded it, stringing it up on sticks, "cookin' it" (drying it out), then we packed it onto the burlap sheets, and took it to market (auction). With the corn, we planted, harvested, and took it to the mill to be ground into meal. Later, the sugar cane was cut, the stalks were put between two pressing wheels to squeeze out the juice. The mule walked around and around in a big circle to turn the wheels that squeezed out the juice. Then the juice was cooked and made into cane syrup.
Looking back, although there was a lot of hard work, I think times were better then — not so much worry and stress then as there is now. We boys felt like we were a valuable part of the family. I wish boys nowadays could have that feeling.
My son, Jerry Oliver, graduated from Northeast High School. After graduation, Jerry attended St. Petersburg Junior College for two years. Jerry wanted to become a fire fighter. He went to Tampa Fire Academy. After graduation from the academy he became a firefighter. In 1997 Jerry got promoted to lieutenant. He wants to be captain of his fire station. Jerry plans to take the test for captain soon.
I am very proud of my son.
My name is Nathaniel Rollins, and I never learned to read. I came from a broken home and had no role model to help me. My mother did not understand how important it is to be able to learn how to read.
I was unhappy and got into a lot of fights in school. By middle school, it was worse. Some of my friends could read but it felt good to be with them.
I went to Richard L. Sanders, a special school for students like me. I had some very good teachers there, but I still could not read.
I went to work under a special train to work program. I worked on an assembly line. I got paid and also got school credits. I graduated in 1989 even though I still couldn't read. I told my mom that I didn't feel like I had graduated as I still couldn't read.
DON'T BE ASHAMED !!! YOU CAN LEARN !!! THE SHAME COMES WHEN YOU DO NOTHING ABOUT IT !!
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.