By Theresa E. Davis
Policymakers and statisticians can tell you several factors contribute to juvenile delinquency, but reading ability — or lack thereof — is not one of the more obvious ones.
Recent studies from the National Literacy Trust indicate that there is, in fact, a correlation between illiteracy rates and juvenile crime rates.
Learning that early intervention and academic support can help stall this damaging trend, Lucas Fleming of the Fleming Law Group in St. Petersburg started Lawyers for Literacy in 2003, and named Jovita Wysocka, also of the Fleming Law Group, as the program’s executive director.
Wysocka explained that the Lawyers for Literacy program typically reaches out to children in St. Petersburg-area schools, and that the only criterion for program participation is each school’s level of interest.
“If there’s interest, we look to further our involvement with the school,” Wysocka said, adding that while the program can certainly use volunteers, donating time isn’t the only way to participate.
“We encourage those with limited time to donate money for supplies and books we give to kids in the program,” she said.
More than 20 lawyers and judges participated in last year’s program, but the “more the merrier” principle applies here.
“The schools always tell us they can provide more kids if we can provide more volunteers,” Wysocka said. “There’s certainly no shortage of children.”
Bear Creek Elementary School in St. Petersburg is joining the program for the 2007-08 school year and Wysocka said she would like to get some Hillsborough County schools on board next year, as Tampa-area lawyers are also showing an interest in the program.
At Sanderlin Elementary, Wysocka said the children working with Lawyers for Literacy volunteers raised their basic early literacy skills by an average of 16 percent, and according to information on the program’s Web site, every child in the program at Sanderlin passed the FCAT.
“We do one-on-one tutoring so students get the most specialized attention we can offer,” Wysocka said.
Volunteers make specialized attention possible, and they are recruited via the Lawyers for Literacy Web site, local bar associations, and advertisements.
Wysocka said the St. Petersburg Bar Association magazine, Paraclete, donated free ad space to the program for one year.
Lawyers for Literacy has fundraisers planned for the fall to raise both money and awareness, she said.
“We encourage people who don’t have the time to spend to donate money for the supplies and books we give to kids in the program,” Wysocka said. “They end up with about 25 books each, including dictionaries and [books like] Charlotte’s Web.”
For more information on the Lawyers for Literacy, program statistics and volunteer information, visit www.lawyersforliteracy.org.