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A Times Public Service Report

Californians Who Can't Read: First In A Three Part Serires

May 29, 1988

You Say Your Workers Can't Read

But have you considered teaching them how? Somebody else's job? That's not what Budget Rent-a-Car thought. Or Tri-Lite Manufacturing or Trans-America Occidental or Price Pfister. Where does training basic literacy stop and other basic training begin? Educators like E.D. Hirsch, author of the best seller "Cultural Literacy" (Houghton Mifflin), insist that pure skill cannot be taught. All skills arrive embedded in a body of knowledge. Those who impart knowledge also teach skills, particularly when they actively seek to do so, and those who teach skills impart knowledge as well. The "cash value" of this insight is that an on-the-job training program (knowledge) joined to an academic program (skills) can make both immensely more effective. TRI-LITE MANUFACTURING

The brochure for the Independent Study Program (ISP) of the South Bay Union High School District reads: "Earn your high school diploma. Work around your schedule. Attend one hour a week." Most adults who participate in the program complete 20 hours of home study a week and come in once a week, for an hour, to the program's offices in Manhattan Beach for individual tutoring. However, two Los Angeles companies have added a new twist to the concept of independent study.

When Bea Lopez, treasurer of Tri-Lite Manufacturing, heard about independent study, she asked ISP director Frances Giffin if the classroom could be moved to the workplace.

Since 46 of Tri-Lite's employees were interested in the program, Giffin agreed to send her teachers to the company's headquarters. According to Giffin, "Part of our philosophy of community education is to start a partnership with industry. Our first example is Tri-Lite."

Three days a week when the plant, which manufactures lighting fixtures, shuts down at 4:30 p.m., employees pick up their books and head for the executive conference room where the tutoring part of the program takes palce. Management volunteers stay an extra hour on school days to lock up when classes are over.

All students are diagnostically tested before begininng the program so they can be matched with the proper text materials. Each student completes the 20 required hours of home study a week but gets individualized instruction upon coming to class.

To encourage employees in the program, Tri-Lite added a reward for completion of the studies--a weekend vacation for two in Las Vegas. Half of the expenses will be paid by the company and half will be paid by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that represents factory employees at Tri-Lite.

Assembled in the conference room, Tri-Lite employees talked about the program. Husband and wife, Alfredo and Ofelia Rivera, have worked at Tri-Lite for 8 and 14 years, respectively. They attend class together and do their homework together in the evenings. Ofelia, who likes history and English, says, "I can remember when I could read nothing. Now I can read many things." Alfredo, who excels at math but has difficulty with English, said: "This is the first time I have been to school. I was never interested before but here the boss gave us the opportunity so I took advantage of it and registered. I want to improve myself. Even though I'm older, I would feel very proud if I could get my high school diploma."

Lopez said the program was easy to set up and easy to operate and encourages other busineses to initiate their own programs. Her only words of caution are that companies should not study the process for such a long time that the program becomes stagnated or never gets started. She says, "Start doing it and whatever needs to be corrected will be taken care of afterwards. If you want to find the perfect program--and then implement it perfectly--you may never get there."

When asked how the company profits from the program, Lopez was quick to answer, "If you have an employee who feels good about himself or herself, then you have an employee who is going to be willing to work, who has a very positive attitude, who is going to be happy and who will produce better."

BUDGET RENT-A-CAR

Suzanne Bovaird, personnel administrator for Budget Rent-a-Car, put a notice about ISP in the paychecks of employees at the company's office at the Los Angeles International Airport. She was surprised when 28 employees said they were interested in participating.

Since the program began the number of employees participating has grown to 45. Most of the students are lot attendants and service center employees. Class is on site at Budget four days a week and most students come before or after their shifts or on their days off.

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