In this instalment of ALTA’s Trailblazer series, we take a look back at Sylvester Derby. In a piece he wrote in 2002, Sylvester outlined his start as a struggling student through to his personal and professional breakthroughs with literacy through ALTA.
First published in Newsday. Reprinted with permission.
Sylvester’s Success Story
I was 34 years old before I really learned to spell and read. I had from an early age always had a learning problem and then ALTA came into my life.
I felt as though I was the only person in the world who had a learning problem until I started attending ALTA Maraval evening classes in 1994. While there I realised I was not alone with this problem. I always thought that if I could attend a Secondary School I would not have this problem, but that was not so at all.
Some of the students who attended the ALTA programme had gone to Secondary School but they were worse off than me and in fact I did better than most of them in spelling and reading exercises. That surprised me, and made me realise how hard I had been on myself for so many years.
Now I can put pen to paper and explain myself in writing. Before I would freeze up when I was unable to spell a word. Instead of cooling myself, I would become very angry and this made me feel very bad.
All that has changed now and I was selected from my class to appear on television and radio to make people aware of the work that ALTA is doing. People who needed help to improve their reading and spelling skills can really get help.
I always thought that I was not good enough because I did not attend Secondary School. ALTA showed me that it was lack of self-confidence. I never told anyone about my problems, because I was afraid to ask for help and I did not want people to think that I was stupid. Right now I am feeling very proud of myself. I can share my experience with other people without feeling bad about myself. Thank God for that.
I want to say special thanks to my teacher Mrs. Cynthia Ellis, who always encouraged me. When I did a story Mrs. Ellis would show me how to improve it, thus building my self-confidence. At one time ALTA asked all the teachers in their centres around Trinidad and Tobago to let their students write a true story about the things which they remembered while growing up. I wrote about times I had with my sisters. I was one of the students whose stories were selected.
ALTA then published a book containing all the stories. I felt so proud of my achievement that I showed the book to my family and friends. The name of the book is called “At Last: Adult Learners Write.”
Sylvester’s story continues next week.
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Our Trailblazer series celebrates the students who in ALTA’s first
decade braved the stigma of low literacy to speak publicly of their ALTA
Here’s the conclusion of the 1990s interview with Yvonne Greenidge,
whose primary school education was disrupted by the need to work alongside her
mother and then came to an abrupt halt due to a serious head injury when she
was struck by a car at age eight.
Reading can benefit you – in, out and for yourself
I want to read my Bible and I now have a verse I read for
myself. When I see the big word, I could
pick out one or two parts from it and try to make up the word.
My husband say how a big old woman like me go to class, and make me
feel kind of embarrassed. He had me
feeling kind of down and I almost stop the class. But my teacher encourage me and say, “Don’t
worry with him, do this for yourself.”
I don’t know if he can read – he cannot read the whole thing.
But he putting out he does read and mamaguying me in some part you
know. He most probably could read a
little more than me, but it doesn’t look like he could read plenty because when
I test him with my work he does kind of spell it, you know.
I like to continue with the class as long as God give me health and
strength because when you go out, you could take the paper they handing out and
take shame out of you eye and say something so they won’t know directly you
I would like to build up myself. The reading can benefit to you in,
out and for yourself.
I appreciate this class a lot and I does pray for the teachers to
have more faith and strength, and encourage them to keep coming.
Where is Yvonne now?
Yvonne is proud to say she has been with ALTA longer than any other
student – which is true!
She also says that ALTA CEO Paula Lucie-Smith, who taught Yvonne in
her early years at ALTA, started the Reading Circle for her – which is also
true. The accident has had long lasting effects on Yvonne’s memory making
visual recognition of words unreliable, so although perseverance got her as far
as Level 2, she needed ongoing support and practice to maintain her skills.
In 2004, Yvonne’s needs became the inspiration for ALTA Reading
Circles where guides support individuals and small groups to practise the
skills learnt in the classroom as they read high-interest, low-reading-level
books. Another trail blazed!
For several years, Yvonne attended both class and Reading Circle,
then transitioned to attending the two POS Reading Circles, so was at ALTA
three times a week until her mid-seventies. She scaled down to two sessions and
then as 80 approached, she decided she was ready to officially retire. In part,
this was prompted by weakening eyesight due to diabetes.
Paula Lucie-Smith has this to say about Yvonne. “Throughout the 30
years I have known Yvonne, I have been impressed by both the effort she puts
into whatever she takes on and her openness to new experiences. Having never
left the country or ever had a passport before, Yvonne willingly accompanied me
to a student/tutor literacy conference in St Lucia in 1994.
But what is most striking about Yvonne is her big heart and her
enduring interest in the wellbeing of others. Once she discovered ALTA, she
wanted to share this with others and she spread the word of ALTA up and down
her hill, not just in official media appearances for ALTA.
She became a one-woman welcoming committee for new students joining
her class at ALTA and chief organiser of the end-of-term class party, where she
would lead the thanks to tutors and express her joy in ALTA – not just in words but with her signature dance of praise and
thanks. She would always say, ‘ALTA is family’, and she both lived this and
helped to shape this.
Yvonne is a mother in the Baptist church and she became a mother to
all at ALTA – students and tutors. Neither her generous spirit nor joy in
living has been dampened in the slightest by poverty and the hard knocks of
life. The end-of-term class party is a fixture throughout ALTA, and her spirit
of giving has infused ALTA.”
now lives contentedly in ALTA retirement at the grand age of 80, still very
much connected to her ALTA family and she will ever be an ALTA advocate.
you or someone you know is interested in joining an ALTA-V class, enhancing their literacy through ALTA Online
Level 1 or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email email@example.com.
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When ALTA started in 1992,
‘adult literacy’ was an unfamiliar term which only a few deemed relevant to
Trinidad and Tobago. Despite the low literacy clearly evident within the school
population, all adults were assumed to be literate. Then, as now, the greatest
hindrance to higher literacy in our nation was the stigma associated with low
More than two and a half
decades on, ALTA looks back to celebrate those students in the 1990s who not
only had the courage to address their inadequate literacy, but took the bold
step to speak publicly of their literacy struggles and ALTA.
We kick off our Trailblazer
series with a two-part article featuring Yvonne Greenidge, the very first ALTA
student to go public. This was a newspaper article on International Literacy
Day 8th September 1994, later followed by an interview on TTT’s Dateline with
Here is what Yvonne had to say.
I get a braveness
About two years back I came to
class. A friend told me about this class and I get interested about it. I like
to learn to read my Bible.
It was hard growing up. I lived
in Shanty Town (now Beetham Gardens) and from small would collect bottles from
the dump with my mother.
My mother gave me to a washer
when I was about seven years old and I had to wash heavy clothes by hand for
her before I went to school. I used to take the clothes around for the owners.
So I always reach to school late. (Morvant RC School)
Then I get in a accident at about
eight years. I only is girl. I was carrying some clothes for some person and
them, when a car come round the corner and hit me in the back of my head. I
fall down. I stay a whole week unconscious, so that throw me back a lot.
They say I was to die. So my
mother bring clothes to bury me ̶ a white dress with lace. I still remember it.
They was to carry me in the mortuary. God bring me back.
School was very good before I
got in the accident, but I didn’t learn a lot. I never go back to school
because the doctor tell me I really feel the effect of it. You know, you push
your head to learn something, but like it does get blank. I notice I does know
the words, because I spell ‘children’ and thing, and after, you see it again,
it gone from me. I don’t know if it is the brains. I don’t know what causing
(At class) I’m learning very
much because what I couldn’t have done what I doing now. I get a braveness to
tell anybody I learning to read. I was a shy person like that before. I afraid
to speak out my mind because I might say something, the sentence don’t be
right. I always catching myself when I talking. From the beginning of the
sentence, I going in the middle, and like I myself don’t know what I was
saying. Reading has helped me a lot to clear my thoughts.
You know, this breaking up of
the syllables, it coming kind of easy to me. In church I read ‘Welcome’. Years
I seeing it big at the front and not knowing what it say. But I see ‘come’ and
then I go back and see ‘wel’ and I get it out. I feel so happy.
Next week we continue Yvonne’s
interview and give an update on where she is now.
If you or someone you know is
interested in joining an ALTA-V class, enhancing their literacy through ALTA
Online Level 1 or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up to date with ALTA on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA TT
Now that ALTA Online is just a click away, improved reading and spelling has never been more accessible to those who need it! Much can be said of the benefits of ALTA Online to our students, but don’t take our word for it. Our look at ALTA Online continues this week with feedback from those who matter most: our students and partners.
Today we explore the connections ALTA has made to widen access to literacy instruction via the new web-based learning platform.
ALTA’s partnership with the Community Police at the Chrissie Trace Recreational Facility in Enterprise Chaguanas has been an all-round positive experience that we hope to replicate across the country. The community implementation model links the police, sponsors like Unicomer Trinidad Ltd who outfitted the facility for ALTA Online, and students in the area.
The officers’ enthusiasm has been infectious and is keeping students motivated to reach their literacy goals. The officers of the Central Division, Community Relations Unit are encouraged by the response.
“The ALTA Online programme has been a blessing to my community. I have seen people with reading challenges now able to fill out forms. Their reading level has improved and people’s lives have changed for the better in such a short space of time. They are no longer ashamed of not being able to read things like road signs. I have seen an improvement in some persons’ vocabulary and how they speak to other persons. I would recommend these initiatives and programmes in any community in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Teen students at Diego Martin Secondary School also took advantage of an early peek at the ALTA Online platform as part of the NGC-sponsored pilot initiative. Student participation was facilitated in no small part by teachers and administrators. One such teacher, Shawn Deacon, shares his experience with ALTA Online.
“For the past few months, we have had a few students enrolled in the ALTA Online programme. We can see that there is more excitement among these students for literacy. There is a greater desire for reading, knowledge and understanding. Because the programme is online, parents can monitor in the comfort of their own homes. They say that they like the progress that has been made over the past few months. I really believe that the programme is successful. I am sure if we get the opportunity to filter more students into the programme, we can raise the literacy level at our school.”
ALTA Online allows adult students to more easily find the time to commit to improving their literacy since they are able to tap into this learning resource as their busy schedules permit. Because of this flexibility, ALTA has the potential to bring many more young adults on board.
Student Sandra Garcia explains, “The classes have been good. I am improving in my work. I like the structure of the ALTA Online lessons. I have reached Book 2 already after starting last month.”
ALTA Online’s appeal spans all ages. One of our primary school students, Janessa Williams, was enthusiastic about her experience. “I have been doing the ALTA Online programme for the past couple of months. I enjoyed the lessons. The VC/CV rule was fun to learn and the reading and sounding out letters was very helpful. Thank you ALTA for the opportunity.”
Individual subscription packages are now available for purchase.
Contact us at 341-8668 or email@example.com to get started.
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