Adult literacy center still combating illiteracy during COVID

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC— The county has about 138,000 residents, but 33% of the adults in the county are functionally illiterate and do not read above a 5th grade level. 

Florence Area Literacy Council combats that by providing one-on-one tutoring to the adults in the county, but COVID is not making it easy. 

Executive Director of the Florence Area Literacy, Christina Lawson, said when students come to FALC, they are working towards taking the GED test. 

“Our average student probably reads on a third or fourth grade level,” she said. 

Lawson said reading levels vary. She said typically a student cannot pass the GED test if they are reading at a fifth grade level, but for the test they need to read at least on a 10th grade level. 

While reading levels may vary, in order to pass the GED test, students have to study English/Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.

Lawson explained students come to FALC for other reasons as well. 

“We have students who come to us who already have a high school diploma, but are working towards getting a new job,” she said. “A lot of jobs require testing before you are interviewed or hired.” 

She explained there is one company in the county that has a corporate promotion exam. An employee has to pass the exam given by the company. She said there are people who are wonderful employees and qualify for a promotion in every single way but cannot pass the test. 

“We have worked with some of those students to help remind them of certain principles from high school, study, pass the test and get the promotion,” Lawson said. “High school was years ago and we do not always remember that information.”

She said many students have studied with them, took that test and qualified for the promotion. 

The FALC does more than help students qualify for promotions or get a GED. They help students enhance their workplace and financial literacy skills as well. 

For example, workplace skills are learning how to function in a work environment — soft skills, customer service skills like how to answer a phone in the office, how to handle a conversation while on the phone. 

According to Lawson, financial literacy skills taught are:

“How to understand what you spent, what your deductions are, how much you started with and how much money you have left in the bank,” she said. “Even in a world of apps, we need to understand what happens if charges don’t show up, how to budget monthly and understand what the priorities are.”

She said the banking process can be overwhelming and confusing. She knows if a person does not have the literacy for the banking process, it may be hard to understand getting loans, what an interest rate is, why is 26% interest considered high, and what do other financial things mean.

FALC offers many forms of literacy skills, but one may wonder what a session is like with FALC.  

Lawson said one-on-one instruction is very limited right now. She said instead of tutors sitting at a table right in front of the student – they are six feet apart at a conference table. 

Lawson said she also understands instructors do not feel comfortable teaching face-to-face, so a tutor will work with students over the phone or virtually. 

“We have had to do a lot of adapting to make sure we continue to help,” she said. 

As they continue to help and adapt, the FALC is a nonprofit and fundraisers help in more ways than one. 

She said in order to provide free tutoring to the adults who use their services, they have to raise 50% of their budget. 

She said for the next three months, fundraisers are not planned. 

Their annual Lip Sync Battle was cancelled June 2020 because of COVID. The competition allows a representative from different companies in the county to perform at their show but raise money for FALC while doing so. 

She said tentatively they are planning for June. They are looking for safe ways to do it and hope by June people are more comfortable participating. 

She said the Lip Sync Battle by itself generates over $30,000 to the Florence Area Literacy Council. She said not doing the battle in 2020 was a hard hit for FALC. 

The money fundraised ensures they have educational materials like workbooks, covers testing, pays a teacher for the students, the computer labs for students to work on and operational costs. 

Lawson said she understands that this nonprofit is not the only one suffering financially during COVID, but if you are interested in donating, click here