Strolling the South Side

Newly Opened South Literacy Zone assists in adult education and GEDs

It has been more than 30 years since Arlene Brodbeck sat in a classroom. But at age 52, Brodbeck decided it was time to get her GED diploma — for her own education and so she could help her 25 grandchildren with homework.

It was the South Literacy Zone that brought Brodbeck back to school. With a fresh literacy initiative grant from the New York State Department of Education, the Literacy Zone — which opened in September 2011 — was able to focus on an adult education program specific to the South Side.

South Literacy Zone Teacher David Dorfer gives a math lesson to GED students at Beauchamp Branch Library. --Photo by Tara Donaldson

“I am very passionate about what we are doing here,” said Valerie Dorfer, the facilitator for all three

Syracuse Literacy Zones. There are also zones on the North and West sides. “We’ve put a face to adult educa- tion in this community,” Dorfer added.

The Literacy Zone does its best to prevent barriers like unemployment and teenage pregnancies from getting in the way of education. To do this, the Literacy Zone provides GED, English language and adult basic educa- tion classes to adults ages 16 and older. It offers assistance with Department of Social Services (DSS) needs, help in finding day care and housing, as well as citizenship classes for immigrants and refugees. All services are free. Case managers also reach out to students.

For Brodbeck, these services are a big part of what allowed her to continue her education. “It makes it much easier that it’s free,” she said. “I’m on a fixed income with Social Security and disability, and with all of the other bills I have, it just makes it easier.”

Blossom Horton has worked with Syracuse Literacy Zones since 2009, and now she focuses on the South Literacy Zone. Horton works in a dual role as assistant facilitator and case manager — a move she has enjoyed because she feels very close to this specific zone, she said.

“This program is very unique, and I really enjoy being over here,” Horton said. “It gives me joy to be able to reach out to the African-American community,” she added.

One of the South Literacy Zone’s most stellar stu- dents had been in trouble on the streets before beginning classes there, but when he was able to see men like him- self doing good things, it opened his eyes, Horton said.

“In the African-American community, it is very important that we see some positive role models,” Horton said.

Brodbeck said she couldn’t be happier with her class and the grade level improvements she has made in just two months.

“I love it because I’m learning,” she said. “And I just think people who need the class should take it.”