Tyler ISD campuses donate 6,000 books to Literacy Council

New release from Tyler Independent School District:

Tyler – Students and staff at five Tyler ISD elementary campuses recently collected more than 6,000 books for Bill’s Bookshelf, a project of the Literacy Council of Tyler. Bill’s Bookshelf provides new and gently used children’s books free to families in the community. Bookshelves are placed at sites where low-income families have easy access to them, and children are invited to choose a book to keep.

Participating Tyler ISD campuses included Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy, Douglas Elementary School, Dr. Bryan C. Jack Elementary School, Owens Elementary School, and Andy Woods Elementary School.

TylerISD Book Drive 2014

Students from Andy Woods Elementary show off their hard work.

The Literacy Council distributes approximately 2,000 books per month. Therefore, the 6,000 book collection will help stock the bookshelves for three months.

“Our students, parents and staff members were excited about the opportunity to give back to the community, and provide books for children that may not have any, by participating in the book drive benefiting Bill’s Bookshelf,” Michelle Overmeyer, receptionist at Woods Elementary School, said.

Two Literacy Council interns from The University of Texas at Tyler, Marysol Romero and Ashley Watts, initiated the drive by reaching out to the elementary campuses.

“We went into the project not knowing the outcome, but on pick up day we were amazed at the outstanding number of books donated,” Romero said. “We are thankful for the participating schools and look forward to the next book drive with Tyler ISD in 2015.”

Brookshire’s, Chick-Fil-A, Raising Cane’s and Super 1 Foods provided prizes to the classes who collected the most books on each campus.

Visualizing Success

"I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

“I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

Jason dropped out of high school at a young age. Shortly thereafter, he came to Literacy Council of Tyler to obtain his GED. But the plan failed, and Jason quit the program, saying he felt like it was more important to go out and work.

The years passed and “life happened”. Jason got married and had three children – now 12, 11 and 9. It was his love for his children and desire for their success that made him reevaluate his own life’s goals.

“One of my goals for my children is for them to get an education,” said Jason. “It seemed like if it was important for them, it was a good step for me to get an education as well.”

Jason firmly believes that you can’t motivate someone else to do something that you don’t do yourself.

So, he headed back to LCOT with a new outlook and met a new group of people. For him, the timing was perfect. “I got into the hands of some really caring people and it seemed like the rest is history in the making.”

Jason enrolled in the Innovative Grant program, where he recently received his GED and Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate concurrently. He is now in the Bookkeeping and Business Management Program at Tyler Junior College working on his Associate’s Degree.

“Going back to school has given me a new lease on life,” said Jason. “At one point it seemed like I was going from one dead end job to another dead end job.”

“I had this grandioso idea when I was younger that I’d have my own business and that would be supporting me for the rest of my life. And that did work for me for a while. The more I grew into that the more I realized that an education was mandatory because the world never stays the same. It constantly evolves, and I felt like I needed to evolve with those times to be successful.”

When asked what has surprised Jason about his new academic success, he said that not much has surprised him.

“This success is actually going along with the picture that’s in my mind. I visualized this and what surprised me more than anything is that it seemed like it was effortless. Because I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

“You changed my son’s path because you changed my path”

ImageAlice started her family early and now has 9 children. For most of her life, she focused on her kids. Recently, Alice decided that it was time to focus on herself, and came to Literacy Council of Tyler for help.

Through tears, Alice shares her story. “Sitting in class that first day, I thought about what this opportunity meant to me, and what that seat in the classroom meant to me. And that seat meant that I was going to have a better future, even at my age.”

For Alice, the day was also overwhelming. She recalls feeling very frightened, especially once she realized the class was studying Algebra. A daunting subject for many, but even more so for Alice who had not been in a classroom for 25 years.

But thanks to her teacher, Rick Swain, Alice was put at ease. She said that his love and passion for teaching shows.

“Mr. Swain broke down the lessons for me,” said Alice. “And I do say “me” because I felt like he was only teaching me, even though there were others in the classroom.”

Just 6 months have passed since that first day in class.

“I can say I don’t have the fear. I cried the other day, because I was sitting at home, working on Algebra problems and it was like drinking water. It was easy. I found it refreshing. The passion I had applied, I now got something back from it. I am not a stupid person. I am very smart. And it was that fear that made me inadequate. Mr. Swain took that fear from me, and now I feel adequate.”

Alice has passed three tests needed to obtain her GED and has two more to go. She is also enrolled in the Dual Enrollment program, meaning she is taking classes concurrently to become a licensed Physical Therapy Aide. Her motivation for pushing beyond the GED is her children, particularly her three-year-old son who has cerebral palsy.

To the volunteers, staff, board members and donors who make Literacy Council of Tyler’s programs possible, Alice says this: “You have changed my son’s path because you have changed my path. I will be 39 and I am going to be somebody, because you have given me this opportunity.”

“You have given me the tools to better my life.”

Good Bye Red-Haired Princess

After 12 years of inspiring her students to reach for the stars, GED instructor Carol Biggs is saying good bye. But when you are as special as Carol, an ordinary send off just will not suffice. So Resa Wingfield wrote and performed a farewell play for an audience of students and staff. Students joined in, reading aloud the underlined words while Carol was showered with gifts.

Enjoy the story of the Red-Haired Pricess:

Let me tell you a story. This is a story about a very special person which of course makes it a very special story. And as all special stories do, it begins with these words… Once upon a time…

    Once upon a time a lovely red-haired princess decided to go out into the world to seek her fortune. She was mostly a very sweet natured lady but if you asked her nicely, the princess might possibly admit that she did have the least little bit of a temper like most red-haired princesses. And if you asked her politely she might possibly admit that she could be the least little bit spoiled like most red-haired princesses. But in spite of these minor flaws (which might not be flaws at all in a red-haired princess) she truly wanted to help people so she decided to seek her fortune at the local literacy council where she could help people learn about MATH and WRITING and READING so that they could get GEDs.
    So she donned her best TIARA and set out excitedly. As it happened, the literacy council did not have a job opening right then but the lovely red-haired princess was so eager to help people, she decided to do it for free and began working as a volunteer. Because she was a good volunteer who was very good at helping people learn things, soon she was hired and given a classroom of her own. Before long, she became the GED Queen and traded her TIARA for a CROWN and SCEPTER. Many many people got GEDs while attending her classes.
    For many years, the lovely red-haired queen ruled the classroom. She taught and tested and counseled. Her students learned SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES, practiced MATH and WRITING, read wonderful BOOKS and used CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS to create amazing projects. If you asked her directly, she might possibly admit that it was sometimes the least little bit tiring to be GED Queen what with dress codes and CELL PHONES, excel reports and technology. Still, the students blossomed and grew and graduated and mostly, all was well.  But even good times can’t last forever.
    One day the lovely red-haired queen realized she was beginning to feel the need for new experiences. Like her students, she needed to go beyond her classroom, stretch her wings and try new things. And if you asked her pointedly she might possibly admit that she was the least little bit unsure what new things she should do.
    So she began to think.  She could learn a new career…that would be fun but was that really what she most wanted to do? She could travel…that would be fun but was that really what she most wanted to do? Maybe she could be a STAR! So she helped make a MOVIE…yeah, that was fun but was that really what she most wanted to do? She was PUZZLEd. Finally, the lovely red-haired queen realized that right now, at this precise moment what she really most wanted to do was go back to her home kingdom and reign there with her handsome king.
    So she gave up her GED classroom, passed her CROWN and SCEPTER to another and went back home to her kingdom. Now we don’t exactly know how the rest of the story goes but with a little imagination you can PICTURE her relaxing with a good BOOK, SCARFing up CHOCOLATE bonbons, sipping drinks from a STRAW, watching a good MOVIE and maybe, just maybe, thinking about her time as the GED Queen. And if you ask her gently, she might possibly admit that she was the least little bit sad to leave.
    Farewell, lovely red-haired queen. You are one of a kind and there are few who can hold a CANDLE to you. We wish you and your king a long and happy reign. We will never forget you.

Meet Elizabeth!

TJC student, Elizabeth Bradley, is on her way to a promising future, thanks to her hard work and a little help from Literacy Council of Tyler.  She’s a successful college student now with a goal within reach, but it wasn’t always that way.

When Elizabeth was sixteen, her father died. “After that, my mom worked all the time, so I did whatever I wanted to,” she tells us. When she finished tenth grade, Elizabeth decided she was finished with school. “I did try to go to an alternative school for eleventh grade,” Elizabeth says, “but it didn’t work out.”

Elizabeth first came to LCOT for help in 2002, but didn’t stay in GED classes for long. Five more years of working in low-paying jobs, however, brought her back to try again in 2007. This time, Elizabeth was determined to get this roadblock out of her way so she could go on to college.  In March of 2008, she took and passed all but the essay portion of the test and in December of that same year she completed the essay portion of the test and earned her GED.

Elizabeth is now a full-time student at Tyler Junior College, completing her prerequisites for TJC’s Dental Hygiene program. “It’s a very competitive program,” she explains. “They get over 100 applicants every year and only take 24.” Elizabeth is working hard to keep her grade point average up since she plans to apply for admission in that program at the end of 2011. She’s also in the process of getting a Dental Assistant Certification to improve her chances for admission into the program.

“College does have a lot of reading, but, I think the hardest part was getting motivated to go back and get my GED,” Elizabeth tells us. “Now that I’ve come this far there’s no turning back.”

When asked about what role Literacy Council of Tyler played in her educational journey, Elizabeth is quick to praise LCOT. “I always encourage people without a high school diploma to come here. I tell them, ‘They’ll help you. They’ll bend over backwards to help you get your GED.’”

Kim’s Journey

Kimberly Mican’s journey through the educational system was anything but smooth. She did fine through fourth grade, but after that year, Kim’s mother decided to take Kim and her older brother out of school and homeschool them. Unfortunately, that decision didn’t work out very well. “She bought the books,” Kim says. “But she didn’t really follow through.”

By the following year, Kim was bored and lonely, so she begged her mother to put her back in school. Her mother did, and Kim took the test for entry to 6th grade, but had to be put in Special Education for math and reading. “That was okay,” she tells us, “at least I was back with my friends.”

Two years later, she asked her mother to let her leave school once more. “I guess I was just tired of going every day…I don’t know,” Kim explains. “So I stayed at home for seventh grade.” Again, the planned homeschooling didn’t really materialize, so Kim fell further behind.

By the next year, Kim was ready to go back and she did, finishing ninth and tenth grade, before encountering the next hurdle. “In eleventh grade, I got pregnant,” she says. “When I had the baby, my dad made me quit school and get a job.”

So, Kim went to work, walking miles to the bus stop and then riding the bus across town to her job at Whataburger. Meanwhile, Kim had another child and continued to deal with ongoing transportation issues just to get to work.

Kim’s mother had come to Literacy Council of Tyler years before and gotten a GED, and encouraged Kim to do the same, but at first Kim couldn’t see a way to make that happen. “It was too hard with two kids and no car and with working all the time.” In fact, there was a time Kim despaired of things ever improving for her or her children.

Then, a chance meeting turned things around. Kim met her current husband, Mark. “He was a blessing from God,” she says. Mark helped out with the kids and encouraged Kim to fit LCOT classes into her schedule. About a year after starting classes at LCOT, Kim took and passed the GED.

Things are looking up for Kim and her children now. She took and passed the TJC Certified Nurse Aide course and now has a good job at Trinity Mother Frances as a Patient Care Technician.  Once her kids (now ages 6 and 4) are in school, Kim hopes to go back to school and get a nursing degree.

When asked if her school and life experiences will change the way she raises her kids, Kim laughs. “They’re not going to go through what I went through,” she assures us. “They need to stay in school.”

Congratulations Kim for all your hard work. All of us at LCOT are proud of how you’ve turned your life around.


Most students can attribute their academic success to a teacher who believed in them. For many LCOT students, that teacher is Rick Swain. Read in his words, what it means to be a part of this transformation.  

The other day I received an excited, yet tearful, call from a student (Blanca Albarran) who had participated in an Intensive College Preparatory Class with me prior to the 2009 Fall Semester at TJC. Blanca, now in her fourth semester at TJC, was calling to inform me that she had been accepted into the very competitive and somewhat exclusive Nursing Program at TJC; she wanted me to be the first to hear of her life-changing news.

My name is Rick Swain and I have been affiliated with the Literacy Council of Tyler (LCOT) since February 2007. I started as a Math tutor on Monday and Tuesday evenings. In August of 2007 I was asked to take over an Adult Beginning Education (ABE) class to teach the full curriculum that covered G.E.D. preparation; in the succeeding twenty months I would see twenty-six students earn their G.E.D. certification while working with me. It was my honor and privilege to witness many of these students, amongst others, proudly participate in G.E.D. Graduation ceremonies where they walked across a stage attired in caps and gowns to the applause and cheers of family members and friends.

I came to LCOT to connect with and to impact others, never imagining the impact that my students would have upon me. I have regularly witnessed tremendous examples of courage, sacrifice, and persistence displayed by many students that were entrusted into my care. It is almost indescribable for me to relate the profound effect that so many students have had upon me when a “light came on” or blossoming confidence transcended into empowerment.

Just when I thought it was “as good as it could get” another blessing unfolded; LCOT pursued a state grant that hoped to prepare G.E.D. Certificate earners to transition into college —- I was hired in a full-time capacity to design, recruit, and instruct this Pilot Program in May of 2009. Almost two years later, twenty-seven “survivors” of this rigorous Intensive College Preparatory Program, including Blanca, confidently and purposefully stride across the TJC Campus.

To be a part of an organization that not only wages battle against the whirlpool effects of illiteracy but stands for the pursuit of academic excellence  fans and sustains my passion on a daily basis. The Literacy Council of Tyler is comprised of talented, committed, and insightful Administrators; tireless, caring, and gifted instructors and staff; as well as an army of selfless and giving volunteers; it is truly my pleasure to work and serve among such an extraordinary brotherhood. We collectively stand for transformation and development of all who pass through our doors.

Rick Swain/LCOT Instructor