Barbara Clark, left, and
JoAnn Carter-Wells

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Barbara Clark gives a quick tour of the new Community Learning and Literacy Center.

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Knowledge Base

New Community Learning and Literacy Center opens at Cal State Fullerton's Irvine Campus.

September 8, 2006

by Mimi Ko Cruz

For decades, men and women in military uniform blocked civilians from entering Building 65 at the former El Toro Marine Corp Air Station. Then, the site was closed and all but abandoned. Today, the 16,000-square-foot building — the second for Cal State Fullerton's Irvine Campus — now is home to the Community Learning and Literacy Center.

The new center aims to help anyone with reading, writing and other literacy problems by providing tutors (graduate students) who work one-on-one with those who need it, much like they do at CSUF's Reading Center on the main campus.

Located in the west wing of Building 65, the center subscribes to a "life cycles needs" approach, said co-directors and reading faculty members JoAnn Carter-Wells and Barbara Clark.

"We will eventually be offering programs and resources for people of all ages," Carter-Wells explained, adding that plans call for workforce literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving training programs for businesses and corporations, a family literacy project, parent training and mobile assessment support and tutoring, among other services. "The goal is to respond to the needs of the community."

The center is part of the College of Education's Reading Department. Its goals and direction come from advisory board members who are representatives from Orange County medical, legal, philanthropic, arts and educational organizations, local businesses and social service agencies. Other CSUF campus departments eventually will be involved.

"We are looking at literacy broadly," Clark said. "It's not just about remediation. We also want to offer enrichment programs, and we are looking into starting a service collaborative because there are a multitude of educational needs in the community. We want to link the myriad service agencies with our center."

The Orange County Social Services Agency has already signed up to be part of the collaborative, and expects foster children throughout the county to benefit.

"We're very excited about the Community Learning and Literacy Center," said Tuey Lee, a program manager with the agency and a center advisory board member. "This partnership is looking into the possibility of having all struggling foster children assessed and given help to succeed in school."

In California, there are more than 100,000 foster children who are at risk of failing in school, according to a Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. study. Research has shown that youngsters in foster care perform significantly lower on standardized achievement tests in reading and mathematics and earn lower grades in those subjects than do non-foster care kids.

"That's why tutoring services and enrichment programs are important," Lee said. "We want every child who needs it to be able to improve his basic educational abilities."
Renee Soderquist, a center advisory board member and registered dietitian at St. Jude Medical Center, echoed Lee's sentiment.

"My 10-year-old son was at the Reading Center at Fullerton for two years because he couldn't read," she said. "He made remarkable progress and now loves to read and his self confidence rose, thanks to the Reading Center. I am so indebted to Cal State Fullerton and so excited about the new Community Center for Learning and Literacy on the Irvine Campus because now more people will have the opportunity to excel."

There will be a fee (the cost for a tutor for a semester, for example, is $150) for the center's services, but officials are applying for grants to use as scholarships for needy students, said Sandy Skinner, a case supervisor for the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County and a center advisory board member.

"To have an all-inclusive center where people can come to get help with literacy problems is a great thing for everyone," she said. "When you improve your skills, your self esteem and confidence grows and you start meeting your potential."