Interviews, Facing the Page
Learning to Read and Write at the Library: Pedro's Story
Pedro, a native New Yorker, faced up to a number of personal challenges before he enrolled in the Tompkins Square Center for Reading and Writing (CRW), the library's adult literacy program last year. I asked Pedro about his journey this past year as a student.
How did you find out that the library has a program for adults to work on basic reading and writing skills?
Someone mentioned to me that the library had a program. I passed by that nice building on Sixth Avenue—Jefferson Market Library—and walked in to find out. I felt uncomfortable, but I knew I needed help so I pushed myself. I actually had never been in a library before so I asked the security guard, and she showed me where to ask for information. The lady there told my they didn't have the reading program there, but she gave me the name and address of the closest program at Tompkins Square Library.
Why did you want to improve your skills?
I want to get back into work, and I need to be able to fill out job applications, and I'd like to get my GED, one step at a time.
How did you feel as a new student at the Center for Reading and Writing?
Excited! Especially when I got my library card. I just looked at it and thought, I never had one of these when I was a kid. I said to the people around me, this is amazing! I'm 46 years old and I just got my library card. I'm on my way!
In the beginning, I liked taking my library card out and looking at it; it reminded me of the changes I was making in my life.
What was the first book you checked out?
I remember it was the one our class was reading: Little Italy by Tana Reiff. It was about a family from Italy—I still remember their name was Trella—coming to the United States and the hardships that they went through and how many sacrifices people made to come here. It was a good book. Later on, I thought about my father and how difficult it must have been for him when he moved to New York from Puerto Rico.
At the CRW, students choose what they would like to write about. What was your first writing topic here?
The first thing I wrote about was my walk to the library, how I like to come to Tompkins Square Library. I just can't wait to get here every Monday and Wednesday! As I'm walking, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and sitting down at the table with my tutor and the other students, and getting down to work. It's beautiful; it's a happy feeling.
What is helping you to improve your writing skills?
I learned that I can write more if I don't get stuck on spelling. I used to stay with one word, erasing it, changing it, and I didn't get far. Now when I'm writing about something, I take a guess at the word if I'm not sure, underline it, and keep moving so I don't lose my train of thought. When I'm finished writing my ideas down, I like to take a mini-break, then read it again to see if I left anything out, and look at the underlined words and try them again. My spelling is improving—maybe a word is off by one or two letters now. Big words might take longer. I see the change.
I'm also learning to be more patient. Patience is one of my favorite words! I don't have to rush, because rushing you make mistakes. I don't have to rush because I plan to continue, and not give up on my education.
To read Pedro's prizewinning story, visit the Storylines Project website.