• October 17, 2019

Literacy council to start classes in Odessa - Odessa American: Local News

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Literacy council to start classes in Odessa

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Posted: Monday, September 16, 2019 4:11 pm

Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center will be offering classes for English language learners in starting Wednesday at Odessa Bible Church, 3901 Penbrook St.

The class will run from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Executive Director Alba Austin said the nonprofit organization was previously called Midland Need to Read, but changed its name in March to better reflect the all the services it provides and the service area it serves.

“We are wanting to expand into offer classes into some other across the Permian Basin,” Austin said.

The classes are being offered in partnership with Odessa Bible Church.

The English language learning class is for adults that need to improve their English or learn English, Austin said.

The agency also offers classes for people who don’t know how to read and write and digital literacy classes that teach people basic computer skills like how to turn on a computer and use email.

“The classes that we will primary be offering in Odessa are ELL (English language learning) … We notice that’s been the biggest need for our services,” Austin said.

However, in the last two months, she said they have seen an increase in referrals for students who want to learn how to read and write.

“English is not their issue,” Austin said. “They just don’t know how to read and write very well. …”

Because Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center is a nonprofit, its marketing budget is “very small,” so students learn about the classes through word of mouth.

“Most of the adults that are seeking our services are very committed because it does take a lot of, especially as an adult, it takes a lot of courage, to be able to seek our services. …. Our students come to us with different goals,” Austin said “We have students who want to improve their English because they want to be promoted within their job and some students come to us because they want to improve their English. Eighty percent of our students, I would say, are female. And so a lot of our students want to improve their English because hey want to be able to communicate with … their children’s teachers; they want to be able to communicate with their doctors when they take their kids to the hospital.”

“And then we have other students that want to improve their English, or they want to improve their reading and writing because they want to get into college. A majority of our students … are from other countries,” she added.

Some of them have degrees from Mexico, for example, but they don’t translate to the United States. They also have to know enough English to pass a college entrance test.

“We also offer citizenship classes and they also take a lot of our English classes,” Austin said.

She added that the citizenship test is intense and you need a certain level of English knowledge to pass it.

Students have to be 18 or older to use the services from Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center.

There is a $25 fee.

“And the reason that we do that is because in the past when we were offering the service for free, there wasn’t any buy in. So if our students aren’t consistently attending classes, they will not learn so we feel if we charge them a minimal fee then there’s more of a buy in and there will be more consistency in them coming to class. But that $25 is a one year fee. That allows them to take classes in spring, summer or fall,” Austin said.

All the instructors are volunteers.

“The way that we onboard our students is they fill out a student application. They pay the $25 fee, then our program coordinator will schedule an assessment with them. That assessment will essentially assess what English level that they’re at,” Austin said.

Prospective students may fill out an application online, or can come into the office and get assistance in filling one out. Sometimes, she said, people get their relatives to fill it out.

If students know very little English, they will be placed in a beginning English class. If their English is a little more advanced, they will be placed in a more advanced English class.

“Our classes are broken into sessions or semesters. So we have spring semester which is from January through the first week of May. Summer session is mid-May through the end of July. Fall semester is mid-August through mid- November,” Austin said.

For the class to be viable, they want a minimum of five to 10 students.

“… If we don’t get five to 10 students, we’ll make that determination of whether we need to cancel classes or make some changes,” Austin said.

She noted that there is nothing like Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center in Odessa.

“That’s why we wanted to expand,” Austin said. “This summer, we had lot of constituents from Odessa that came to our literacy house in Midland and said we want to take English language learning classes and we’re from Odessa and we can’t find anywhere in Odessa.”

Anyone is welcome to take literacy classes at the location in Midland, but that is “quite a drive.”

“Literacy is an issue that I think the community and the Permian Basin really needs to take a good look at because it does affect the community that you live in. We’ve had companies that have told us that their truck drivers do not speak English — more than 50 percent of them do not speak English. And that becomes a safety issue in your community if you have big truck drivers that do not know how to read simple truck signs, or do not know how to read a driver’s manual or anything like that,” Austin said.

Last year, Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center served about 190 students. Austin said the latest number is more than 230 students.

She added that the students are very committed because it takes a lot of commitment to take the classes, especially when you’re an adult and you have work and a family to take care of.

She said alternatives such as Cogdell Learning Center and Casa de Amigos in Midland were booked and that Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center has a waiting list.

“… Fortunately, we’ve been able to recruit a couple of volunteers so we’ll be able to offer additional classes and hopefully take students off the waiting list. But these services are definitely needed in the Permian Basin,” Austin said.

PBALAC board member Howard Marks said the benefits of extending the services out will ultimately improve and upgrade people’s lives.

“With historically low literacy rates, especially in West Texas, there is an urgent need in our own backyard, in Odessa,” Marks said. “Alba Austin has been instrumental as executive director for the PBALC organization (formerly Midland Need to Read, Inc.) in raising the bar in fundraising and operations.”

For more information, call the literacy council at (432) 682-9693, ext. 402, or email hsmith@pbalc.org for more information.

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