Students outnumber literacy tutors |

Students outnumber literacy tutors

by Maggie O'Neill

Marinda Phelan likes Stephen King novels.

As she mentions the harrowing “Rose Madder” on Thursday evening at the Nevada State Library, the corners of her lips crease into a smile. And then she says something that some 44 million people in the United States don’t ever get to say.

“I’ll never read that book again,” she laughed.

Phelan once belonged in that large number of people who can’t read a label, fill out an application or read a story to a child.

“If I can learn to read anyone can do it,” she said.

Phelan, 42, has struggled to read since high school.

“Back then, they just pushed people through. Reading, it just never clicked for me.”

Phelan was at the library Thursday night for the annual party for Carson City Literacy Volunteers.

“It’s pretty hard when you can’t read a child a Humpty Dumpty story.”

Tutor Maryann Elorreaga has worked with Phelan for about a year. Phelan now reads at a 10th-grade level.

“I’d hardly recognize her tonight as the same person a year ago,” Elorreaga said. “Her self-esteem has grown a lot. It’s just sky-rocketed.”

The Carson City Literacy Volunteers group, which formed in 1986, is in need of people to work with tutors.

“We can use all the volunteers we can get,” said Marilyn Brandvold, the organization coordinator. “We have more students waiting for tutors than we have tutors.”

An 18-hour requisite session in the Laubach Training System is scheduled Feb. 2, 3, 5 and 12.

Mesha Kennerley, 46, wants to become a tutor. She joined the group in 1995 as a student after moving to Incline Village from Taiwan the year before.

She picked up English by watching Sesame Street with her child and by using a much-adored cookbook.

“I wanted to get my GED,” the 46-year-old said. “My tutor helped me to learn how to pick important points and to write essays.”

Time and time again, she took the GED. On her ninth attempt on June 25, 1998, she succeeded.

“Illiteracy is nothing to be ashamed about,” she said. “If I didn’t do this, I would never learn. No matter how difficult it is, you can always try.”

How true. The oldest student of Carson City Literacy Volunteers is 84.

Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at mo’ or 881-1219.

Facts about illiteracy

• About 44 million people, or 21 percent to 23 percent of the population, cannot read.

• Forty-three percent of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty and 70 percent of people at the lowest literary skills have no part-time or full-time job.

• Children’s success in school correlates to their parents’ education level.

• College graduates average $1,829 a month. Those with no high school diploma average $452 a month.

– Source: National Institute for Literacy,