13 INVESTIGATES: Illiteracy in Alabama - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: Illiteracy in Alabama

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Better Basics Executive Director Karen Kapp explains the "Birmingham Reads Day" to Parker High School students. Better Basics Executive Director Karen Kapp explains the "Birmingham Reads Day" to Parker High School students.
Some of these Parker High School students participated in a Better Basics program at their elementary schools. Some of these Parker High School students participated in a Better Basics program at their elementary schools.

The cost is high to businesses without a properly educated workforce. One study shows the literacy level of Alabamians affected the state's ability to keep existing business and industry and attract new ones.

Curious George and his crazy adventures are just one of many fun reads for young readers. But did you know some children who should be able to read this book, can't?

Better Basics Executive Director, Karen Kapp said, "Many, many children cannot read at grade level."

For 19 years Better Basics has been working to grow better readers.

Kapp said, "Many times children are forced to read on their frustration level, at grade level and therefore they shut down because they don't understand, they don't keep up, they can't read the words."

Without programs like these, some children can and do grow up to be illiterate adults. In our investigation of illiteracy rates in Alabama, of adults 25 years and older, we discovered according to the US Census Department:

In 1900 - 35% of Alabama's population was illiterate.

In 1950, that number dropped to 6.2%.

In 2003, The Institute of Education Sciences estimated the state's illiteracy rate at 15%.

According to the Literacy Council of West Alabama, 1 in 4 Alabamians is functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy is the inability to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.

So that's why better basics focuses here in elementary schools.

Kapp said, "We instruct the children on an instructional level, so that they're confidence level will be built, to begin with and once you build confidence in children, they know they can read, then that's half the battle."

Part of that battle is getting books into the hands of children - to create their own home libraries. Better Basics has several programs that do just that.

A non-profit, Better Basics budget is $1.4 million annually to run its half-dozen reading programs. Schools have to chip in 14.2% for the programs they use. The rest is paid by donors, grants and fundraiser's.

One of its program's is Birmingham Reads Day. Guest readers go to all of Birmingham's elementary schools to read books and then each student gets to take that book home for their own library.

Kapp is getting some of those guest readers ready here at Parker High School. Students like Josy and Anyah both came through Better Basics 4th grade program called Motivators Of Reading Enrichment or MORE.

High School Sophomore, Anyah Dobynes said, "I remember I read lot of books but I remember the Hank Aaron book the most cause that's the one my granddaddy, we was reading it together."

High School Sophomore Josy Chapman said, "There were a lot of Dr. Suess books, but my favorite happened to be lion king."

In the 2012-2013 school year students in the MORE program read 24 thousand books. They along with their teachers received 32 thousand gift books for their libraries.

Now sophomores, these students are studying to one day be teachers themselves, in Parker's Urban Educator Academy. And they're giving back.

Knowing how important reading is, they will be reading to kindergartners at a neighboring elementary school on Birmingham Reads Day April 18th.

Chapman said, "Cause I think that reading is everywhere. You have to learn how to read in order to function well in this society so if you can't do that then it's kind of messed up."

Dobynes said, "Being in Birmingham Reads, I see how the teachers helped me want to learn, like the speakers who came, make it look so fun and I just want to be just like them, just help little kids."

But it's more than just about reading Better Basics also hopes to expose kids to culture.

Kapp said, "And they see everything from ballet, to character education programs, to music, to science and we're exposing them to a wealth of knowledge through our school-wide enrichment program."

Better Basics - fighting illiteracy in Alabama.

Kapp said funding is Better Basics number one challenge. Without the needed dollars, there's a long waiting list of schools in both rural and urban settings to get access to its programs.

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