Lessons for lifeLessons for life

Their weekly chat often covers a range of topics, from their children to national news.

Erika Akahoski often uses a translator app on her phone and a dictionary, while Ann Beattie asks her questions. Akahoski, who is from Japan, and volunteer Beattie have been meeting for two years, sharing stories of their family life and discussing whatever is in the news — from measles vaccinations to the Islamic State group.

For Akahoski, the hope is that talking regularly with Beattie will help her better communicate with parents of her children’s friends and with her kids’ teachers at school in Indianapolis.

Akahoski is one of about 40 adult students who receive reading lessons from the Johnson County Public Library’s adult learning center. Most of the students are trying to learn English as a second language, and the rest are local adults trying to restart their education, learning center coordinator Wendy Preilis said.

The goals of the students in the course vary.

Some, including Akahoski, want to be able to read documents and newsletters they get from their kids’ school or from their church. Others are preparing to go to the Central Nine Career Center to take and pass the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, formerly the GED. Whatever the case, the learning center wants to provide these adults with a way to get started, Preilis said.

“We’re kind of like their first stop,” she said.

Central Indiana has other groups and organizations, such as Indy Reads, where residents can receive help becoming stronger readers. But not all programs are free, and not all are intended to help students meet specific goals.

Akahoski said one of the reasons she drives to Franklin each week is because she couldn’t find a place in Indianapolis that was affordable and that would work with her to meet individual goals.

The public library has been offering adult learning courses for nearly 30 years, but when the courses started they had more local, nontraditional students and fewer students learning English as a second language. About 30 of the adult students work one-on-one with about 24 volunteers from the community. Three years ago Preilis made group work a part of the program so that more adults who needed help were able to join.

Before, the program had a waiting list of 15 people. By adding groups, the wait list was cut to five, Preilis said.

“We needed to figure out some way to serve the adults that were coming in,” she said.

The students who work in groups meet three times a week and complete lessons such as practicing conversations, learning vocabulary and writing about news reports. Preilis said adults who work one-on-one with volunteers have lessons that are tailored to their needs and interests.

When students join the program, they take a reading assessment that gauges their current reading level, and they share what goals they hope to reach through the program. Then they’re matched with volunteers, whose backgrounds include retired teachers, pharmacists, counselors and writers, Preilis said.

The volunteers find assignments and activities that their adult students are interested in completing. The method of teaching differs from traditional schools. While students in school are taught reading fundamentals, such as the alphabet, word sounds, verbs and sentence structure, Preilis said most adults need to quickly see that they’re making gains in order to stick with the program.

“For adults, they need to see a little more progress. If we’re not working on things that are meaningful for them, they’re going to get burned out,” she said.

So some tutors read through the newspaper with their students, highlighting words the adults don’t know or understand and taking time to review them.

Other volunteers have their students keep a journal throughout the week. When they meet, the volunteer will scan the journal entries for misspelled words, and the pair then will practice how to spell the words correctly, Preilis said.

Preilis said she hopes that adults are able to build on the reading skills they develop. The library also works closely with Central Nine to ensure that students who want to complete their high school education are ready before they move on to the career center classes.

“We want the learning to continue,” Preilis said.

At a glance

Here are the details of the adult learning center reading program offered through the Johnson County Public Library:

Adults participating: About 40

Work with tutors one-on-one: About 30

Work in small groups: About 10

On waiting list: 5

Cost: Free

The goal: To enable adults to meet personal goals, such as reading a specific book, communicating with others more effectively and preparing for adult education classes at Central Nine Career Center