This summer some colleagues and I shifted our direct adult learning support to 57 Maclaren. There wasn't any money, so we volunteered our time and paid for stuff out of our own pockets (i.e., from our pay for running the storytents - think of it as double-duty dollars.) The Crescent Valley Community Tenant's Association generously gave us use of additional space. This gave us a place to store things like our adult resources and files, key equipment (computer, printer/photocopier, etc.), and our circular table and chairs, as well as a place to meet with people or complete paperwork. We sometimes made use of the larger front room and kitchen area, bringing materials and equipment out as needed.
Oh, and I stuck a sign in the window.
Over the course of the summer and early fall, nine individuals approached us about help with their learning. Of these, seven followed up by meeting with us. Two learners did not keep their appointment, and declined to make an additional appointment.
Of the seven, two learners chose to stop coming early on in our relationship. Three needed information, ideas and help with a referral: one or two meetings was adequate to meet their needs.
Only two learners made on-going use of our services, and only one attended 57 regularly.
The learner who came to 57 had workplace literacy as a goal (background story here). As a result of his efforts through the summer, this worker received a promotion and a pay increase at his place of work. At this time, I'm still working with him, though in a different venue. (One of the oddities of adult literacy work is that facilitators and learners alike migrate among the same seasonal or short-term programs and projects: one major retention issue is with the retention of the funding and space to keep programs running.)
The other (our self-directed learner) received at-home support provided in conjunction with the bookwagon. This support resulted in reading gains, is on-going, and may take place at 57 during the winter months.
Although discouraging, this pattern of only about 50% of interested adults showing up for an appointment, and only about 25% following through long enough to experience success, seems to be consistent with most adult literacy work. At least, it's consistent with my experiences. Issues beyond literacy - poor health, abusive or violent experience, periodic employment, frequent relocation - often create barriers between potential learners and their classes or tutors.
Is a 25% follow-through rate enough?
Well, look at what happened. One learner is reading better, and feeling better about her reading. And one learner got a promotion and a raise because his reading skills increased.
Not bad outcomes from sticking a sign in the window and hanging around a few extra hours a week.
But I'll tell you what. If you want better outcomes, give me some money to promote, to obtain better resources, and to have a more consistent presence in the community.
You get what you give.