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Coping : Literacy Can Be His Key to Romance : Reading: Oxnard man sees course leading to a happier life and a driver's license, so he doesn't have to go on dates on a bus.


Alan McElhiney wants the three Rs in his life. That's reading, 'riting and romance.

At the age of 41, the Oxnard man can't read or write beyond the second-grade level. He thinks that if he can pick up some basic skills, he can find love and happiness.

He says that is his main motivation for spending two hours a week at the Oxnard Adult School. He is in the Ventura County Library's reading program for adults, an adult literacy tutoring program. The free lessons are supported by a consortium of county libraries, adult-education schools and literacy programs.

Three months ago, McElhiney knew the alphabet, period. A couple of weeks ago, he scored 95 on a test, and last week, he was working with his volunteer tutor, Pat Soyster, on punctuation and capitalization.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 19, 1990 Ventura County Edition Ventura County Life Part J Page 3 Column 6 No Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Reading program--Due to an editing error, an article on April 12 erroneously said that 55 students are enrolled in the Ventura County Library's Reading Program for Adults. That figure represents the number of students attending classes at only one site, the Oxnard Adult School. A total of 343 students are taking classes at eight sites.

"You punctuate when you talk," Soyster told him.

"Yeah," he replied. "I always punctuate when I talk."

"I mean you've got it in your head," Soyster said. "But not when you read it."

What he has in his head, too, is love. When Pat asked him about his love life, he laughed shyly and answered, "What love life?"

"Getting another girl is what I want," he said. "But I have to pass my driver's test. I met a girl on a train from Seattle. We were getting along pretty good. We spoke on the phone. Then she wrote me a 'Dear John' letter. I felt if I had been able to drive, I could have taken her out instead of going on dates on a bus."

McElhiney needs to read to pass the driver's test. He also needs to read to become a writer or a bus driver, two of his other pursuits. He works in the shipping and receiving department for Goodwill Industries of Ventura County.

He grew up in Boston but never went to high school.

Ventura County has an estimated 82,000 adults who are unable to read above the fifth-grade level, the state says.

Three years ago, there were never more than 10 students enrolled in the literacy program at a time. Now it has 55 students in its eight locations and a waiting list of 30, and there is a shortage of tutors.

The reading program operates at eight locations throughout the county, and a ninth center will be added around June. Last week, the Moorpark City Council appropriated $8,000 to start a program.

"We get a lot of high school graduates who are reading at a second- or third-grade level," site supervisor Jeannie England said. "A lot of the students have learning disabilities. Some are dyslexic.

"And we have some Spanish-speaking students who as children moved every six months to Mexico and to the States and to Mexico and to the States and were never in school long enough."

England says the majority of the students come with one of two goals: better jobs and staying ahead of their school-age children.

Rose has both. She is 31 years old with a 7-year-old girl and a factory job.

"I thought about learning to read and write all the time," she said. "But now my daughter is moving into a higher grade, and I didn't want her to fall back. I wanted to help her. I was just being lazy, and I was embarrassed to admit I have a learning problem. . . . It's not really a problem. Just hearing the word illiterate all the time starts getting to me."

Rose managed to get through high school without reading and writing and takes most of the responsibility for that. "I'm the only one in my family who doesn't read and write," she said. "My parents say I just didn't want to do anything."

It's a different story for Arnulfo Hernandez. The 32-year-old native of Mexico City has spent most of his life working in the fields and never before had a need to learn English. Now, working for the Burpee Seed Co. in Santa Paula, he needs it.

"When I was in high school, I learned some, but since I only spoke with Mexican guys, I forgot a lot that I knew," he said. "When I worked in the fields, everybody spoke Spanish, so it was not necessary to speak English."

When the program started in 1984, it was financed by a five-year state grant that was designed to diminish each year. As the state funds decreased, Ventura County had to make up the difference. When state funding ended completely in July, 1989, the county Board of Supervisors approved funding of $85,800 a year to maintain the program.

While the cost of running such a program is high, officials say the cost of not running it is higher. The less educated the potential work force, the worse it is for the local economy.


The Libraries program, which is run in conjunction with other adult education programs in the county, has free tutoring available at:

* Avenue Adult Senior Center, 550 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura, 648-3035.

* Saticoy School, 760 Jazmin St., Saticoy, 647-3923.

* Simi Valley Library, 2969 Tapo Valley Road, Simi Valley, 526-1735.

* Fillmore Community School, 532 A St., Fillmore, 524-5870 or 524-2271.

* Oxnard Adult Education, 1111 W. 2nd St., Oxnard. (No phone.)

* California Youth Authority School, 3100 Wright Road, Camarillo, 485-7951.

Tutoring is also provided at the Main Jail and at the Ojai Honor Farm.

For general information, contact the County Library Services Agency, 4274 Telegraph Road, Ventura, 652-6294.

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