|Trib Photo/Sue Tone|
Literacy volunteer Marlys McCrank, left, helps student Kenneth “Buddy” Johnson read a passage from a workbook. The pair have been working together for 2 1/2 years through the Prescott Valley Library Adult Literacy Group.
One can get by with just a first grade reading level, but that narrows work options for adults to mostly labor positions.
Kenneth "Buddy" Johnson knows how to get by with low-level reading skills, but it comes with a high price.
"It is embarrassing, especially when you're a grown-up. You should be able to read," Johnson said toward the end of a one-on-one tutor session Wednesday with literacy volunteer Marlys McCrank.
Johnson is McCrank's first - and only, to date - tutor student through the Prescott Valley Public Library Adult Literacy Group. The two have been meeting twice a week for two-and-a-half years.
Johnson said his goal has always been to read fluently, but he had a hard time finding help. He started with a tutor several years ago in Cottonwood, and when he moved to Prescott Valley, he sought help through the library literacy group.
"I was tired of being embarrassed and doing everything the hard way. I made up my mind to learn to read and I didn't care how long it would take," he said.
The school system in Ventura, Calif., where Johnson spent most of his school years, failed to identify or deal with his poor reading skills.
When teachers gave out homework, Johnson said he wouldn't do it. He couldn't do it. Teachers said he had an "attitude problem," which he acknowledges as truth.
"I got in a lot of fights. The other kids would call me names," he said.
Johnson developed what he called street smarts, and learned to adapt by watching what others did. That's how he learned skills to be a machinist and to work on motorcycles.
He worked for 10 years as a cross-country truck driver, learning from a fellow driver how to fill in a logbook. He measured distances on a map and calculated the time it took to drive from one place to the next.
Johnson said he learned how to fill out applications because they are all the same. He memorized his medical records. To make sense of what he reads, he picks out keywords and guesses at the rest.
McCrank is helping him to read every word in the sentence, and not skip or add his own words.
"She has a lot of patience with me," Johnson said. "I still get stuck, especially when there's too many vowels."
Egyptology and drawing are two interests that provide Johnson with an incentive to read books at home. He can recognize longer words like "hieroglyphic," McCrank said, and yet stumbles on shorter words like "thin" or "ash."
He brings unfamiliar words to the tutor sessions where McCrank helps him break them into syllables. Sometimes, she tells him to go to the dictionary, he said with a laugh.
McCrank said she always wanted to help others with reading, but did not have the time until she retired and moved to Prescott Valley. She's never taught, nor has she been to college.
The Laubach Literacy International program is easy to follow, she said. It also teaches tutors about respecting their students as adults with their own life experiences.
"It's been very rewarding for me. I think everybody should be able to read," McCrank said.
The PV Library Literacy Group has scheduled its next free training session for Saturday, March 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the third floor Community Room at the PV Library.
For more information on the program and/or the training, please call Cathie Mount, director of the PVLALG, at 443-1086, or 759-3049 to leave a message.