The Optimism of Education

By Kalie Greenberg, NBC15 Anchor | Photographed by Valerie Tobias

Many of us may not even remember learning to read and write, or think much about how the ability to do so makes life easier for us every day.

But for those who struggle with low literacy—which includes 1 in 7 Dane County residents—the inability to read and write eliminates many opportunities, such as stable employment and keeping pace with our modern tech-based world.

Enter the Literacy Network of Dane County, which helps 1,000 county residents each year learn to read and write. The network, founded in 1974, has doubled in size in the last decade.

The organization teaches literacy, as well as the computer and speaking skills needed for a modern economy. The learners are often immigrants and refugees.

“People who have overcome a lot of barriers in life decide ‘I’m going to dedicate two-to-three hours a week to education because this is important,’ says Autumn Jackson, the network’s senior director of ESL classes. “It provides you with a lot of hope.”

Some 67 percent of learners and 70 percent of the Literacy Network’s 900 volunteers are women.

“It’s one of few places in Madison where people from different communities, within our community, come together in a very meaningful way,” says Jennifer Peterson, senior director of tutoring.

The Literacy Network offers classes, and volunteers also work with learners one-on-one. It creates individualized lesson plans for each learner, based on what they need to know, such as communicating with their child’s teacher, or creating a resume.

“We serve people who may be facing fears in their life…it’s good to have the optimism of education,” Jackson says.

Adult education isn’t often a trending topic, Jackson says, but support for the network’s mission continues to grow. Last year, the network boosted the amount of time learners spent in class by an average of 10 hours. The organization is always looking for volunteers, Peterson says.

“A beautiful relationship can come out of it,” she says.

For more information about the Literacy Network, go to

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