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Student Alumnus directs literacy council in Tyler

Tyler Junior College alumna makes a difference in the community and in many people’s lives in Tyler, Texas.

“Tyler Junior College is where I learned that I loved to learn,” said alumna Nancy Crawford, executive director of the Literacy Council of Tyler.

When it came to education, Crawford felt out of sync until she attended TJC from 1971 to 1973. She processed information differently, but in those days they didn’t commonly diagnose learning disabilities. In first grade, she wrote her name backwards – perfectly. A very good first grade teacher helped her get over that.

“Nancy enjoyed learning and was eager to experience new ideas,” said Waldrop. “She came with real possibilities and then developed from there. She has done exceedingly well.”

After TJC, Crawford graduated from Stephen F. Austin with a bachelor’s degree. Then she taught second and fourth grade in Tyler. During the time she taught second grade she began to understand the importance of the parents’ participation in a child’s education. When parents didn’t show up at teacher conferences or PTA meetings she decided to visit students’ homes.  

Despite warnings from other teachers of the dangers, she learned a lot about her kids during home visits. Often their parents didn’t have a phone, a car and didn’t speak English. Their non-participation wasn’t because they didn’t care about their kids. It was because of life circumstances.

“I realized the connection between the kids’ performance and their parents’ literacy level,” said Crawford. “I read to my second graders every day. I could hardly wait to read to my own children.”

In 1990, she began working with the Tyler Adult Learning Center, the precursor to the Literacy Council. They had many people wanting to get a GED, but they were poor readers and couldn’t participate in the GED instruction. Crawford was hired to work with the lower-level students.

At the end of her first year, Crawford had six tutors and 30 students. Every year they added more and more. In the early ’90s, the organization became the Literacy Council of Tyler.

 The Literacy Council had a couple of different part-time executive directors who quit after short terms. Each time they lost an executive director the board asked Crawford if she was interested in the position, and she wasn’t. She just wanted to work with the students.

The third executive director was very good, but when she left, Crawford was afraid of working under someone else. When the board once again asked her to become the executive director, Crawford decided to give it a try.

 “From ’96 to ’98, I regularly called [the previous director] and asked her if she’d come back,” said Crawford. “And she would say, ‘no, you’re doing fine.’ But I finally got to where I liked it.”

Crawford missed working directly with the students, but she still encouraged them.

“She uplifts your spirit,” said Stephanie Pellegalle, a current student at TJC and one of many Literacy Council success stories. “I would recommend the Literacy Council … They must be angels.”

Pellegalle says the Literacy Council would help anyone who, like her, didn’t get a diploma or is returning to school after any length of time.

Over the years, the Literacy Council has had a lot of help from the community of Tyler and charitable organizations such as PATH, The Salvation Army, and Goodwill Industries. These organizations want to help in emergency situations and then they want people to get the skills they need to improve their circumstances.

“We see ourselves as the organization that can help these other organizations help their clients,” said Crawford.  

Last year the Literacy Council served 2,381 people with 360 tutors, and a staff of 48.

TJC West campus let the Literacy Council use their facilities for offices and classrooms free of charge. In return, TJC has reaped the benefits.

 “TJC saw an opportunity, as we began to develop, to strengthen us and then our job is to get students ready for them,” said Crawford.

With help, students can discover their own love of learning at TJC.


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