2.10.99 07:55:18 Moved by Words

Reading is believing

True to his word

Finding his words

He kept his word

Moved by words

Frank Symonds got tired of hiding his illiteracy -- and got some help

By DOANE HULICK Journal Staff Writer

Frank Symonds reached a turning point in his life 10 years ago when he decided to do something about a problem that had plagued him most of his life.

"I wanted to learn to read and write," he said. "I was injured on my job, and I thought my life had ended right there.

"I went to the classes they had at that time. And I used to go to the library every day. I would go there limping up the stairs. A librarian used to help me. I would go to her with questions I had from the class I was taking.

"Then I started getting one-on-one tutoring from the Literacy Volunteers of America. It changed a lot of things in my life,'' Symonds said.

LVA provides volunteer tutoring for adults.

Symonds, 55, of East Providence, recently was named chairman of LVA's National Student Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Rhode Island Adult Literacy Council.

But what's more important to Symonds is that he is at the threshold of completing the fifth and final examination for his General Equivalency Diploma.

"I am going to college. That's my goal in life. I couldn't read or write until the age of 45. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. There are a lot of things I want to know."

The road was long, with bumps along the way.

In the third grade, a teacher rebuked Symonds for asking questions, he said, and from then on -- except for a brief futile try for another teacher who offered encouragement -- he gave up.

"I will always remember the third-grade teacher," he said. "We were spelling words. I would ask her what the words were. I got up a third time and went up to ask her again. She literally jumped on me. The other kids were laughing at me."

Symonds quit school when he was 16 and married his 15-year-old girlfriend. He hid his illiteracy from Patricia until she died and from his wife Delores, when he remarried.

Symonds got a job as a laborer and worked his way up to heavy equipment operator and had his youngest daughter, Reyna, fill out the paperwork he had to do.

"I used to have to go to work an hour and a half early every day to pick up the paperwork and rush back home," he said.

"My daughter, Reyna, read the descriptions of the job that had to be done in a certain area to me. At the end of the day, there was a performance sheet that had to be filled out. After school I would dictate to her and she would fill out the performance sheets. I was never questioned," he said.

"Then I was hurt on the job. I had back and leg operations," Symonds said.

"I went on workers' compensation and eventually I was offered a job working in an office.

"The job involved working with an adding maching and matching bills. I was dead in the water then. I had relied on my daughter for a long time. I explained that I did not know how to read or write."

His company got him into classes at the Institute for Labor Studies and Research. Later, the librarian steered him to one-on-one tutoring with the Literacy Volunteers of America.

When he started one-on-one tutoring, Symonds said, he had trouble with the simplest words, felt awkward and embarrassed and avoided situations that involved reading.

"But I learned to read and write. I have passed four of the five subjects I need for the GED. Now I'm working to improve my writing skills. Now, I am being taught phonics. I need phonics to improve my spelling.

"I'm no Einstein, but I can read well. In the past, I had to rely on so many people, because of the handicap of not knowing how to read or write. I can write a check today. I write the numbers, the amount and who it is for. I used to have to carry cash.

"It's a rewarding feeling. I can fill out forms, where I couldn't before. I can go to the doctor's office, and instead of looking at pictures in a magazine, I can read it. Or I can pick up a book and read it, instead of faking it.

"What I want to do is take college classes. I would like to try to go into business. I am pretty good with numbers. I want to take business courses,'' Symonds said.

Reyna, the daughter who filled out the paperwork for Symonds when he was a heavy equipment operator and could not read, graduated from college and went into accounting.

As chairman of LVA's National Student Advisory Board, Symonds is responsible for making sure all the projects the board takes on are carried out to completion.

"My project is tutor retention. We have been collecting data and information on what causes the matches [between tutors and students] to fail."

Copyright © 1999 The Providence Journal Company Produced by www.projo.com

back to learner

LR/RI home