Literacy program benefits locals
Careful selection goes into pairing pupils and tutors
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By Natalie Gray  June 14, 2013 12:00 am

The Cotati-Rohnert Park Library is dedicated to reading in all its forms, including teaching their customers and community how to read via a 27-year-old, countywide literacy program created in 1986. This program is unique in its existence for being totally free to students and meant for hardworking, busy and dedicated adults, many of which know English as their first language.

This literacy program was founded by the Sonoma County Library originally with the intention of assisting adults in the area of Sonoma County who, for whatever reason, never learned to read properly; perhaps these students had to drop out of school to work and support families or they simply never got the training and schooling they needed. Eventually, though, the program has moved to widely accept a vast majority of students that are currently learning English as a second language, said Sonoma County Library representative, Julia Dabbs.

“It’s wonderful,” said Rohnert Park resident and literacy program student Alicia Garcia in a phone interview. “There were many people there to teach me and I really liked the program.”

Garcia had participated in the program in the past, working to build her reading and computer skills. According to Garcia, before her classes with a personal tutor, she had trouble using her computer and would avoid it. But now she knows the machine well enough to even play games. Garcia would like to take another class at the library with the literacy program but is currently on a waiting list along with nine other potential students for the Cotati-Rohnert Park Library, said Dabbs. Currently, there are only two tutors working at the Cotati-Rohnert Park Library.

Through this library program, students are offered an intimate and affordable class they would not be able to have through any course at a community college. In addition to being totally free to the students, a single student is assigned to one tutor, giving them a comfortable, close relationship between teacher and student. According to Dabbs, tutors and students often become close friends after classes.

“We match people on where they live and when they are available and willing to go,” Dabbs said.

Classes meet when the tutor and student are both available, at times that work well around the library’s schedule. Students are matched personally by library officials to tutors, said Dabbs. Another unique bit about the program is tutors are not official teachers, but rather volunteers. 

Volunteers are welcome from all around Sonoma County, so long as they can work around the library’s schedule, are passionate about the program and promise at least a six-month-long commitment. Tutors are put through a brief training and made to attend a one-day orientation held at the Downtown Santa Rosa Library before they are personally assigned to a library in the county and a student. Tutors are asked to work at least between two to four hours a week with their students.

“The people who teach me are just so nice and so good,” said Garcia. “I hope (the library) finds another teacher for me.”

Though tutors can be anyone willing to undergo training, with a flexible schedule and interested in helping their students, officials heading the program are a little more selective when choosing students. According to Dabbs, students undergo an interview process before they are allowed a tutor. This is to make sure the student is able to communicate efficiently with their tutor (all students must be able to speak English for teaching purposes), most have a flexible schedule that will work around the library’s and student’s time and they must show initiative and drive to convince the library they are dedicated enough to last the entirety of a six-month-long commitment to the tutoring session.

When students and tutors meet for the first time, they together compile a list of goals the student would like to meet by the end of their classes. Usually, these goals are not as cut and dry as merely learning to read, said Dabbs. Often, students have very specific goals they would like to achieve, such as reading and understanding legal documents, how to read aloud to their children or maybe be able to read and pass the tests surrounding getting a driver’s license.

In addition to the adult literacy program, the Cotati-Rohnert Park Library also offers a variety of helpful classes, such as a computer skills class where students are welcome to work on, learn about and check out computers, iPads and tablets for their convenience. To sign up for classes or to be a tutor or learn more about the program, go to the Cotati-Rohnert Park Library or the Sonoma County Library website at 

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