Faculty to volunteer for adult literacy

The University’s first faculty service project will launch next fall, pairing professors and students with the Washington Literacy Center to help local residents develop reading skills.

Kathy Newcomer, director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, began recruiting a dozen faculty for the short-term initiative April 13, which she said would start off as a small, “manageable” project.

Twelve teams consisting of one professor, one undergraduate and one graduate student will lead hour-long reading groups of eight adults over three weeks in a pilot project at the D.C.-based center starting in September.

As chair of the Faculty Senate’s committee on the University and urban affairs, Newcomer kicked off the initiative to unite faculty on a single project in the District.

“We decided we wanted to have something that’s a signature faculty service initiative because, as you know, our students are all over the place,” Newcomer said at the Faculty Senate meeting.

She added that, while professors already do community service across the city on their own, the project would make it a “team effort,” like GW’s student service projects.

More than 500 students participated in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in January and GW’s Alternative Breaks Program has continued to grow since it started in 2006. Since University President Steven Knapp’s tenure began in 2007, he has emphasized service with the expansion of the Freshman Day of Service and Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The theme of the faculty project is leadership, meaning that the reading group’s books will focus around figures like South African politician Nelson Mandela.

The Washington Literacy Center, a small community-based organization in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C. founded in 1963, educates adults who struggle with basic literacy skills.

About 120 students in the center’s reading program, where the average age is 44 years old, have between a second and fourth grade reading level. Many of the program’s participants are unable to gain employment because of their lack of literacy skills, Mary Algire, executive director of the center, said.

Algire said she was impressed that GW faculty recognized the importance of literacy for this particular age group.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “This is the first time that a university has approached the center.”

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