THE BUZZ: TLC Could Lose its Love

By on January 26, 2016

Looming budget cuts threaten important literacy program.

Maria Romero and her son Diego work on an activity at TLC making their own version of the game “Scattergories” to play at home. (Photo: zac shepherd)

Maria Romero and her son Diego work on an activity at TLC making their own version of the game “Scattergories” to play at home. (Photo: Zac Shepherd)

Jackson, WY – Jackson local Edgar Lopez’s entire trajectory has changed thanks to the Family Literacy Program at Teton Literacy Center. Through adult education courses and reading clubs, he was able to pass his Journeyman Test, allowing him to begin a career as an electrician that has vastly altered his life, and the lives of his family members.

Lopez cannot stress enough the merit of these programs. “With my kids in preschool, I noticed a huge difference between my oldest daughter, who didn’t have all this help from Teton Literacy, and with my boy. He’s confident. He’s better in school in every way. He gets along with the kids in his class. It’s just awesome.” Now Lopez sees the improvement in his daughter, too. “She’s been a part of Teton Literacy for a few years, and lately she’s been helping them out there. We get a lot from the program.” Lopez says they work hard to give back and volunteer whenever they can.

But as of last week, life-enriching programs that have helped people like Lopez and his children have come under threat. On Thursday, the Wyoming Joint Appropriations Committee announced a budget cut proposal that would slash the funds of literacy centers across Wyoming. TLC would lose approximately $200,000 (roughly one third of its budget) if state legislators do not consider how integral the center’s programs are to its community.

Last year alone, the Teton Literacy Center helped more than 512 families and 550 students program-wide. Their services include one-on-one tutoring, afterschool enrichment programs, and family literacy–hitting every major building block of education throughout a child’s academic career.

The Family Literacy Program will take a major hit if TLC loses funding. This would exclude families across Jackson from enjoying parent ESL (English as a Second Language), basic education, and GED services to Kindergarten Readiness (an education-oriented pre-school program) and parent-child education time.

Each of these programs uniquely enables members across the community to perform better. The Kindergarten Readiness program, for example, enriches entire classes, as students who do not have experience in an educational setting prior to kindergarten do not perform as well once they find themselves in the classroom. TLC executive director Laura West Soltua told The Planet, “If we lose the Family Literacy Program, a substantial number of children will be unprepared [for kindergarten], bringing down the quality of education for everyone in the class.”

Zach Shepherd runs the Family Literacy Program at TLC. He says he’s not willing to give up these vital programs without a fight. “This is a statewide program, so we’re trying to develop an advocacy program on the state level, ” he said. Shepherd hopes by the end of this week literacy programs across Wyoming will have put together a plan of action to save the funds so they can continue helping Lopez and others.

“It’s a huge help in the future too,” Lopez noted of the myriad young and older folks who learn to read and write thanks to TLC. “And I think it’s for the rest of their lives, because it changes their lives. If you don’t know the language, you take what you can get. But when you learn the language, that opens doors.”

Cesar Garcia promulgates a similar story. Through the Family Literacy Program at TLC, Garcia’s English has dramatically improved as well as his connection to the community. Because of these things, Garcia has been able to advance at his job and become involved in the community in a way he previously thought impossible.

Garcia is not the only member of his family to have experienced an improvement in quality of life through TLC. Garcia’s children grew up in a Spanish-speaking home, but through the Family Literacy Program’s work in Kindergarten Readiness, they are able to attend traditional English-speaking classes, enabling them to connect with their classmates and advance in their academic pursuits.

“Especially in the Latino community,” Garcia told The Planet, “we always start off at home speaking Spanish, and for little kids, before school, it’s very important to have this program for people with low income because it’s pretty much free. It helps out a lot.”

For Efrain Perez, English as a Second Language courses have provided him with communication skills and the opportunity to move forward in his career. For his children, it has meant they were able to graduate from high school. Perez has found value in another service offered at the literacy center, too–a parent-child education time, where professionals teach parents how to invest in the education of their children.

“In Mexico not many of us finished schooling–we didn’t finish high school, and through Teton Literacy we are learning to help our children finish school,” he said.

Stories of lives changed by the Teton Literacy Center’s programs run hundreds, maybe thousands deep and spread across community boundaries.

“Over the past few days, we have received incredible support from the community– even support from people who have never used the program but are appalled by this [budget cut],” TLC’s Soltua noted. “That’s really inspired us to keep doing what we’re doing, because there is no other program like it.” PJH

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