How do you reach the 70 million adults in America in need of literacy education when most cannot attend a class because of a job, a lack of transportation, or childcare? If you are the Adult Literacy Media Alliance (ALMA), you tap the popularity of television and develop fun programs with celebrities, athletes and actors to capture viewer interest. You include topics that teach useful skills, like reading a lease or comparing cell phone plans, and you broadcast widely to accommodate non-traditional schedules. You call the program TV411 and you go on to win two Emmy awards.
ALMA, based in New York and celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month, created the nationally-televised TV411 series as the backbone of its multimedia curriculum. That curriculum now includes an interactive Web site, print materials, and hands-on kits which have helped thousands of adults gain the basic reading, writing, math, and life skills needed to achieve their goals—whether to obtain a GED degree, land a job, or simply help children with their homework.
“I watched TV411 and saw people that were excited about writing,” said Deborah Gardner, a single mother of three living in San Francisco. “I started writing stories about my fishing adventures with my grandfather and I loved it. Instead of going a-b-c, I was writing about things I loved…I can’t believe how far I have come. When I look at where I am now—I can’t believe it,” said Gardner, who began the program with minimal skills and now plans to go on to college. Since 1994, ALMA has:
- Produced 30 half-hour episodes of TV411, currently being broadcast or cablecast nationwide, starring such diverse celebrities as actress Liz Torres, singer Phoebe Snow, and the Harlem Globetrotters
- Joined with dozens of public broadcasting stations to air TV411 more than 14,000 times
- Seen peak viewership of TV411 reach 85,000 viewers in a single day in New York City—more than all the adults served by the City’s adult literacy programs in a year
- Produced and distributed 700,000 copies of its magazine, “TV411 IN PRINT” which includes articles and lessons teaching specific reading, writing, and math skills featured in the television programs
- Trained thousands of teachers, administrators, and community members in 31 states to adapt materials for use in their adult education centers, hospitals, prisons and churches.
- Developed TV411 Online, a free Web site which features interactive high content/low reading level activities that extend the lessons featured in video and print
“We realized early on that the traditional classroom is often not available to our audience,” said Alex Quinn, director of ALMA . “So we created innovative, educationally sound, and entertaining TV shows and materials that bring financial and health literacy learning to adults wherever they might be—at home, at work, or in the community. And our programs teach skills we can all use: how to analyze credit card offers, decipher the hidden costs when making a purchase, or understand a nutrition label,” Quinn said. “It’s fun and it works.”
Originally published on January 1, 2005