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‘It just wasn’t important for me to read.’

Times staff writer

Jenifer Marlowe is giving herself a gift--something she’s always wanted. From all outward appearances, she already seems like a young woman who has everything going for her. She recently moved to San Diego to start a new life with her husband, for example, and she is expecting her first child in a few months. She has dreams of being an interior designer. But something was definitely missing because Marlowe, 22, can’t read beyond a fourth-grade level. Her whole life has been spent finding ways to cope with a society full of words. Then, she saw a poster for READ/San Diego, an adult literacy program provided through the public library. She was matched with a volunteer tutor, and now she studies phonics and comprehension. She has also been named the spokesperson for the program. Times staff writer Caroline Lemke interviewed Marlowe at the READ/San Diego office in East San Diego. Barbara Martin photographed her.

I made it through 2 1/2 quarters of college. When I was in high school, I was very involved in everything else. I was a cheerleader. I was on the tennis team. I had lots of boyfriends. It just wasn’t important for me to read. If I had any problems, I’d go to my special education class, and the teachers would help me with tests, read them to me.

When I first got out of high school, I went to Mt. Sac (Mt. San Antonio College near Los Angeles), and I took a couple interior design classes, and I did great in all the projects because most of it was designing and drafting. And I did fine, except I couldn’t read the tests good enough to pass them. I didn’t pass the classes.

I was signing up for (prenatal) care for my child, starting the paper work to find a doctor, and I saw a sign for the READ program and decided to call. I had made the decision to learn to read many times before, but I wasn’t successful. When I lived in Reno, I went to a tutor, but I was always hung over or tired. I didn’t get much out of it. I wasn’t ready.

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I just got a new (instruction) book. My tutor and I go over the vowel sounds and phonics. We read a lot of baby books, and we’re starting to read some graphics and now, hopefully soon, we’re going to start checking out computers because I’ll be buying one soon.

My tutor and I are becoming more like best friends now. It’s more like a friendship. We hit it off like that, even over the phone. I mean, I had this woman doing incredible things even before she met me. She was looking into child care for me for when I have the baby, she was calling all the design schools because she knew I would like to be an interior designer. She was just doing all this stuff for me, and I’m thinking, “Wow. I don’t even know her yet.”

A lot of times when I read things, I guess, I don’t take enough time to just sit there and really look at the words. Instead, I just want to guess to read it, just to get it over with. A lot of reading is just taking the time to do it. I have a hard time with the vowels together. It’s an “a” and an “i”, and it sounds like an “e”. That kind of stuff.

It’s hard. Every day is hard. That’s where my tutor comes in. Sometimes, I call her and say, “I’m going to be able to do this, right?” I get so frustrated I just want to cry. It’s just that you’re out there all alone, but you have to believe in yourself and not worry about what other people think. That was the biggest thing in my life. I was always worried. And now I’m in the program, and I just don’t care what they think.

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I moved here, and I’m starting a new life. I’m expecting a child, and I want to be a good mom. I can read good enough to be a mom, but there might be some day, if the baby gets sick, that I’ll have to read some major small-print doctor words. And I feel that, if I can learn to read better, I could be happier and more fulfilled in my life. I really want to be successful, and I know I’m ready to have this wild career, and I just have to get through this in order to do it. And I will.


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