Staying Afloat in New Orleans: Adult Literacy Programs, Needed More Than Ever, Struggle to Survive Post-Katrina

By Terry, Dorothy Givens | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

Staying Afloat in New Orleans: Adult Literacy Programs, Needed More Than Ever, Struggle to Survive Post-Katrina


Terry, Dorothy Givens, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


With the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina behind us, most of the attention in New Orleans is still on physical and facility recovery efforts. But buried beneath the news accounts of a city trying to pull itself out of its debris are groups and organizations whose physical infrastructures may not have taken a direct hit from Katrina, but whose programs and services are struggling to stay afloat amidst reduced resources and a changing clientele.

These organizations include adult literacy programs, and behind them is a dedicated group of literacy leaders who are trying to keep the issue of adult literacy in the forefront of all the other issues vying for attention.

Before Katrina, 40 percent of adults in the New Orleans area were reading below the sixth-grade level and another 30 percent below the eighth-grade level. Less than 10 percent of those individuals were categorized as in need of literacy services and were actually enrolled in a literacy program.

The winds of Katrina scattered many adults who were enrolled in area literacy programs and blew in others with additional needs. This brought new challenges for literacy leaders, many of whom have been struggling with personal and professional issues of their own in the aftermath of the 2005 storm.

It's About Hope

Dr. Petrice Sams-Abiodun, executive director of the Lindy Boggs Community Literacy Center at Loyola University in New Orleans, says her home was flooded by six feet of water and made uninhabitable after the storm.

With her family currently riving in the basement apartment of a relative, while dealing with contractors and city inspectors, Sams-Abiodun has managed to maintain a professional life.

She admits to being frustrated at times.

"As a native of New Orleans, I'm trying to rebuild my life personally and I'm very committed to the issue of literacy/adult education, which has also been devastated by Katrina."

Noting that 70 percent of New Orleans adults read at or below the eighth-grade level before the storm, Sams-Abiodun points out that many residents couldn't make their way through an extensive application process to receive assistance for rebuilding their lives after Katrina. "Literacy is so strongly linked to a lot of the poverty we're seeing in the greater New Orleans area," she says.

On the front lines of the literacy fight is the Lindy Boggs Center, which provides local literacy leaders with access to current information and training and pursues a collaborative, community-based research agenda.

Loyola University, located in the uptown area of New Orleans, suffered minimal damage from Katrina. However, many of the Lindy Boggs Center's literacy providers were hit. "Many lost their centers, their computers, their instructional materials," says Sams-Abiodun.

Before Katrina, the center's adult education provider network had about 43 providers and programs. But now, only eight providers remain.

"So many people who were a part of the network left," notes Sams-Abiodun. "So many instructors have not returned, or will not return. Like me, they are dealing with the professional and the personal. Many of our adult learners also are displaced."

The providers who remained have had to seek unique partnerships to stay afloat. One provider, for example, has partnered with a library for space to continue operating.

Sams-Abiodun is encouraged by these collaborative efforts. "It's not about literacy, it's about hope," she says, citing the center's motto. "The people of the greater New Orleans area have hope that we can rebuild our community. This is also an opportunity to build the kind of adult education and literacy system we've always envisioned. We have the opportunity to impact literacy at a whole other level."

Getting Creative

In contrast to the decline in adult learners in programs through the Lindy Boggs Center due to Katrina, the adult education and English as a Second Language programs offered through the Hispanic Apostolate Community Services have seen an explosion of participants post Katrina. …

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