The problem is particularly acute in the nation’s capital. In response to this glaring social problem, the University of the District of Columbia (“UDC”), under the auspice of the State Education Agency and the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES), commissioned Symphonic Strategies to help it better understand the size of the problem and its impact on District residents. C. Vanessa Spinner, Acting State Director of the State Education Agency, requested that we help her increase the bank of information documenting the needs and preferences of low-income, functionally illiterate residents in two of Washington, D.C.’s most impoverished Wards—Wards 7 and 8.
In this endeavor, Symphonic Strategies engaged target populations of the city’s residents with low literacy skills—high school dropouts, ex-offenders, single mothers, young adults (19-34 year olds) and recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families—to help refine UDC’s understanding of their needs and preferences.
Our unique cultural competencies, non-traditional outreach strategies and unconventional information gathering techniques enabled us to engage respondents from the target populations and extract valuable information from them.
We engaged 93 limited literacy skilled adults in 12 focus groups representing seven categories:
- High School Dropouts over 30 years of age
- New Americans — Spanish speaking
- Previously Incarcerated Men
- Previously Incarcerated Women
- Single Mothers
- TANF Recipients
- Young Adults from 17-24
Through the study, we were able to better understand how low literate adults in the District of Columbia “navigate” adult education and employment programs. In the process, we learned a great deal about how these individuals navigate “life” as well. We offered our recommendations and conclusions in a comprehensive written report that was published by the SEA. Our report painted a picture of how financial and other resource investments can be bundled and offered in the right order, in the proper amounts, and at the right time, from the standpoint of the often ignored “consumers of social services” – adults with limited literacy skills.