Program pairs adults with tutors to combat city's illiteracy problem

1 in 4 San Antonio adults is illiterate

SAN ANTONIO – One in four San Antonio adults is illiterate and the problem is not getting better, according to Carolyn Heath, executive director of Each One Teach One, an adult education program.

“It’s one of the largest sociodemographic issues facing San Antonio,” she said, pointing to the fact that most of those adults with problems are reading at or below a fifth-grade level.

Data compiled by a Huffington Post contributor shows the ZIP codes with the highest population of illiterate adults are also dealing with high poverty levels. Heath said the numbers have not changed in the decade she’s been running the program, showing the problem to be in the inner city.  

“I don’t know that it will get any worse, but it’s already really bad,” she said.

The ZIP codes are 78207, 78202, 78203 and 78237 — although, Heath said, the problem is really spread throughout the city.

“It really does spread across the city, but yes there are inner-city pockets where it’s at the greatest level,” she said.

Gale Carranza is one of her students. She’s nearly 60 years old and graduated from high school but tests at about a sixth-grade education. Her entire life, she was just getting by until she decided to seek help.

“The biggest challenge is stepping over that threshold — to get here and get where I am right now,” Carranza said.

Carranza gets tutoring and help with basic math several times a week. She lives in one of the ZIP codes with a high number of illiterate adults.

Heath said illiteracy is a problem that plagues many Texas cities, including San Antonio, El Paso and Corpus Christi.

“We are seventh in population in the U.S. and we rank about 70th in literacy,” Heath said.

The problems that lead to illiteracy vary from socioeconomic to how much school districts spend per student, Heath said.

Heath urges parents to teach their children how to read before they get to the first grade. By the time children reach third grade, they must be able to read for understanding or they will fall behind and increase their likeliness of dropping out.

Heath said children of illiterate adults are less likely to succeed in life. She said illiteracy is linked to less-healthy adults who are more likely to be involved in crime, drugs and alcohol.

“The good news is the solution lies with all of us — by becoming a volunteer tutor,” Heath said.

Her program works with volunteers who can give up about two hours of their day to help adults. 

About the Author

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

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