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DECATUR — Janice Currie has always had a heart for helping people who are sick.

Already a certified nurse assistant, Currie decided she wants to be a licensed practical nurse, and ran into a roadblock.

“I couldn't pass the (entrance) test,” said Currie, who turned to Project Read Plus for help.

With math tutor Charlotte Hanks' assistance, Currie has strengthened her basic math skills and is poised to begin working on algebra this week.

Project Read Plus has served Decatur since 1984, when the Illinois Secretary of State provided funds to help adults with low literacy skills. Project Read was established as a partnership among GED providers and community organizations Richland Community College, Macon County Regional Office of Education, Decatur School District, Decatur Public Library and others. The program became part of Richland's services in 1988 under then-President Howard Brown and is still funded in part by an Illinois Secretary of State literacy grant.

The location of the organization's offices at the Decatur Public Library is convenient because the city bus station is nearby.

Hanks discovered a love for math in high school and, using Project Read's curriculum, has helped Currie and other adult students review the foundational basics and move on through increasingly difficult math until their confidence and skills have improved.

“Math is like a puzzle,” Hanks said. “Everyone learns differently.”

Currie agreed, and said that the one-on-one tutoring is what made the difference for her. She takes regular assessments and can see her skills improve.

Program director Julie Pangrac has a passion for Project Read Plus and realized in recent months that there was a need to expand beyond literacy tutoring.

“When I came 17 years ago,” Pangrac said, “we carried that reading, we incorporated phonics and people began reading, we expanded into comprehension because a lot of people can read the words, but don't remember what they read, don't know how to explain what they read. And we're going, 'Good, they're on their way.' But there's something else you have to have for jobs and higher education, and that's a knowledge of math.”

Math is a problem for a lot of people, and Pangrac said even she had trouble with it, which proved that adding math tutoring to Project Read was necessary.

“It's (seen as) OK to not be able to do math, because a lot of people can't do math, and it's perceived as difficult,” Pangrac said. “Students who can't read deal with all kinds of shame and feeling stupid. So we looked at curriculum for math and thought, this doesn't fit with how the brain works. We need a whole lot of repetition for people like me. I didn't get math. I didn't understand it, and I didn't like it, and I didn't use it, and it's a whole circle of negatives when you don't get it.”

Because the staff couldn't find math books that suited them, they wrote their own curriculum.

“How do we build, step by step, and what do you need to know to do long division?” Pangrac said, describing the process of developing the kind of curriculum that works for people who have never understood or liked math. Once they had that curriculum in hand, she said, they've helped people like Currie who wanted to advance their careers, or seek jobs that required more skills than they had.

“Feeling 'stupid' gets in the way of learning,” Pangrac said. “People have to experience success to dream a little bigger.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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