Ardmore’s local literacy coalition is growing, and the organization has created a new leadership role to help them reach their full potential.
Laura Akers, a former Ardmoreite and Oklahoma Gazette reporter, has been a communicator for her entire career. Now, she’ll use the same skills as Ardmore Literacy Leadership’s executive director, a position the nonprofit created this summer. Akers has a master’s degree from Oklahoma City University in nonprofit leadership.
“I didn’t see myself continuing to work as a reporter my entire life,” Akers said. “With that in mind, I knew I needed to figure out what I was going to do with the second half of my life.”
The ALL was created in 2013 and has been overseen by a board for the last four years. ALL is a nonprofit, but has not yet filed for 501c3 status. Akers said for now, her main priority is the unglamorous task of building the organization from a legal standpoint, filling out paperwork and documenting the organization’s efforts.
“It’s had a really strong beginning, but we recognize there’s so much more potential for Ardmore Literacy Leadership and it’s time to take it to the next level,” Akers said. “So what does that look like? We’re still discussing that.”
She said ALL serves as an umbrella to literacy organizations in Ardmore and supports them with advocacy work, grant-writing, fundraising and other services.
“We also work to connect learners, whether adults or children, with these organizations,” Akers said. “We have some excellent organizations in Ardmore that are providing literacy services. It’s not just about learning how to read.”
Akers said the English language classes at St. Mary Catholic Church, GED courses for adults at Ardmore Family Literacy and computer and citizenship classes at Ardmore Public Library all fall under the umbrella of literacy.
“That’s what’s so cool about Ardmore,” Akers said.
Akers said according to the US Department of Education, 32 million adults in the United States can’t read. Broken down by state, 1 in 5 Oklahomans struggle with literacy. In Carter County, 1 in 4 adults do not graduate from high school.
“We know, based on years and years of research, that if you don’t finish your high school diploma, you’re more likely to be incarcerated, to be a victim of crime, to live in poverty, to live in poor health, the list goes on and on,” Akers said.
She said ALL is working with the information they have, but there haven’t been many recent large-scale studies on literary in the US. The last one was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, when a study found that 14 percent of adults in Carter County lacked basic literacy skills.
“When kids are at that age and learning, being around books is a huge boost for their literacy levels in the future,” Akers said.
Hidden factors can impact how a child learns. Undiagnosed learning disabilities, vision issues, and even moving from school district to school district frequently as a child can have consequences.
“There’s definitely a stigma toward illiteracy or just being a poor reader,” Akers said. “There’s been misconceptions, stereotypes that they’re lazy or stupid. Even saying ‘I need help’ can be a huge first step.”