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Educator Says Many Students Unable to Read Well


July 22, 2005- As V.I. students continue to hold their place at the bottom of national testing levels, Dr. Monica Boyd-Richards of the V.I. Literacy Association says that poor reading and writing skills should be a top concern for officials at the Education Department.
"I know that there is a problem with federal funding, but people should also see that several of our children are matriculating through the public school system without many of the skills necessary to continue in higher-level education," Richards said.
Richards, a social studies teacher at Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas, further highlighted this problem at a Rotary Club luncheon on Thursday, literally giving members some "food for thought."
"Reading, writing, and arithmetic, various skills … they should be nurtured early, between the ages of one and seven, five and 10," Richards said. Richards added that these are critical years for children—if certain educational standards are not instilled during this time, a child trying to achieve literacy at the age of eleven may fail and never recover.
"Once failure in school becomes habitual, the child's self esteem is destroyed, and he or she begins not to care about reading or writing. Then, when they can, they will drop out because the work has been too hard for them to understand."
Richards said that this is the reason the V.I. has the highest dropout rate per capita in the nation, and she chastised parents for not asking for more assistance—as well as not taking the time to learn how to properly read and write themselves.
"I see many parents who do not understand the work their children are bringing home from school…these parents don't ask for help, and they don't try and supply the help their children need. We have to work together as a community … to help each other. That's how we will beat this problem," Richards said.
However, while parental involvement is necessary, Richards also acknowledged that the American school system itself has a share in the blame. "As we are a colony of the U.S., there seems to have been a communal movement toward Americanization," Richards said. "Instead of reading, we have our girls wearing short skirts, and instead of writing, we have our boys in penitentiaries. That's no way to show them how to learn."
Richards further described conditions at CAHS, where she believed that nearly 60 percent of ninth- through twelfth-grade students had difficulties reading and writing.
"When I came to the school in the 2000-2001 school year, I was appalled. Most of my kids couldn't even pronounce the words in their textbooks…they weren't being given comprehensive tests…they didn't have the skills to write a proper essay," Richards said.
In order to help combat this concern, Richards said that the following year she founded the V.I. Literacy Association, offering a small group of students a chance to receive extra help outside the classroom, all year round.
"I have no funds, and I have no staff—it's just me in there. But I know that I'm doing some good, because I see the children I'm teaching learning how to comprehend ideas, and respond to them."
Completely funded by Richards, the V.I. Literacy Association works on teaching kids the skills that they might not be learning in school.
"We teach math, science, reading, of course…we learn how to comprehend and learn," Richards said. "We work together in peer groups, and we build self-esteem on every level."
Richards encouraged Rotarians to do what they could to help the organization, as well as other schools in the community.
To reach Dr. Richards, or to enroll in the V.I. Literacy Association, call 774-0043.
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