Whatcom Learning Lab fights illiteracy locally, globally

Published on Wed, Feb 15, 2012
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Zhenghong Wan wanted to improve her English reading skills while on an extended vacation in the U.S., so she turned to the Whatcom Learning Lab.

The lab is a nonprofit, community literacy resource that provides reading help to beginning or challenged readers of all ages. Students can be children, adults who are functionally illiterate or English as second language learners such as Zhenghong.
Trained volunteers provide one-on-one tutoring assistance with an emphasis on early literacy (reading levels kindergarten through third grade).

“Our greatest challenge has been getting the word out so people know we exist, so I was surprised that one of our first students would come from as far away as China,” said Linda Gorsuch, director of Whatcom Learning Lab.

Gorsuch said there is a need for literacy help in the community. “One in six adults in Whatcom County is functionally illiterate. In 2010, about a third of our county’s fourth graders tested below grade level in reading on the MSP statewide test,” Gorsuch said. “But it takes contemplating other statistics – such as 70 percent of adult inmates and 85 percent of children in the juvenile court system cannot read – to appreciate the far reaching impact of illiteracy.”

For greater convenience for children and their working parents, the lab recently relocated to the Blaine Senior Center, right across the street from the Blaine school campus. Tutoring sessions are on Mondays and Wednesdays from either 3 to 4 p.m. or 4 to 5 p.m. The minimal $2 fee per session can can be adjusted based on need.

In addition to reading materials tailored to the student’s ability, the tutors use laptop computers to access a reading website to reinforce reading skills. The lab is seeking donations of working, WiFi-enabled laptop computers.

The Lab depends on people from the community to volunteer to become trained as tutors. Good candidates are high school students and adults who have a heart for helping others and can make a commitment for the school year. Adult tutors must pass a background check.

If you are interested in hosting another site for the lab, want reading help or want to volunteer as a tutor, please call Linda Gorsuch at 360/371-3978 or email whatcomlearninglab@comcast.net. Visit www.whatcomlearninglab.org for more information.