Getting the words out: New Dimension expands free education to Love County

Michael D. Smith
New Dimension Literacy Council Executive Director Mary Finley on Thursday. In the year since becoming a full-time director, Finley has expanded literacy service to Marietta and has now set her sights on Madill.

When Mary Finley first became the full-time director of New Dimension Literacy Council last year, one of her first priorities was expanding services back into Love County. Now, one year later, as she awaits the Sept. 10 beginning of a new annual session, learners south of her Ardmore facility will again be able to attend classes in Marietta.

The classes offered by New Dimension this year will include adult literacy, ESL and GED preparation. They are free of any tuition or equipment costs and Finley said the need for these services is apparent based on how many people are dedicated to improving their literacy skills.

New Dimension has roots dating back to 1984 but started in its current form in 2008. It has utilized a one-on-one approach to help mostly adult learners in Carter County with improving reading skills, but Finley said teens as young as 16 can also take classes. 

Finley started working for the group in 2018 and said learners that began attending classes before her arrival still do so. She continues to follow the progress of specific learners that regularly drive an hour round trip from the Madill area. 

For example, one married couple has attended English as a second language classes for several years; another man in his late 60s has regularly made the trek for basic adult education classes. With the expansion to Love County now realized, Finley has set her sights elsewhere to better help these learners to the east.

“This is why I want to get closer,” she said. “I want Madill, Tishomingo, even Durant is closer … than it is to Ardmore.”

About one in five American adults cannot complete tasks that require comparing and contrasting information, paraphrasing, or making low-level inferences, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

“This translates into 43.0 million U.S. adults who possess low literacy skills,” reads the July 2019 report. 

As a pandemic drags on, literacy is vital for someone to follow health recommendations. A study by Dartmouth College released last week found that public information about the coronavirus from all 50 states averaged just over an 11th-grade reading level.

However the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health all recommend that medical information for the public be written at no higher than an eighth-grade reading level, according to USA TODAY.

New Dimension helped 17 people last year improve their reading, math or English skills. While down slightly from how many Finley expected to use the classes, she attributed the lower number to the pandemic that cancelled in-person classes from March until June.

But even after the initial onset of a pandemic, Finley said New Dimension learners continued to keep up with the session even with study rooms closed. Online video conferencing was and remains an option, but she said Facetime and phone calls were the most popular considering the one-on-one nature of tutoring services.

“If it does get to where we have to do Zoom and Facetime and phones again, we will. We did that in March and April and May,” she said.

Even though she lost one volunteer tutor because of the pandemic, Finley is excited to have a paid tutor in Marietta for basic adult education and GED prep. Ardmore has two tutors for these classes along with a volunteer ESL tutor.

She is not sure of the final number of students that will be ready for the newest fall session of classes, but Finley said she’s already received multiple phone calls about GED classes and expects those to be the most popular.

“I am sure we will be serving probably twice as many this next year due to being back in the classroom, offering GED, and serving Love County again,” Finley said.

Staff will continue to promote social distancing and sanitization and learners will be required to wear masks. She expects the flagship location in the Ardmore Public Library annex to safely hold up to five learners with adequate social distancing, and the Love County Library in Marietta to hold up to seven learners.

“I want the learners to get what they need. And it’s free,” Finley exclaimed. 

For information and to register for classes in either Ardmore or Marietta, contact New Dimension Literacy Council at (580) 630-9055 or visit the Literacy Center at 320 E Street NW, across the parking lot from the Ardmore Public Library.