THE TASK of learning to read and write for those who did not learn during the usual process of growing up is eased at The Learning Bank, where the door is wide open to those who want to learn.
Stepping into the quiet, friendly atmosphere there, any uneasy embarrassment or lack of self-worth is lost as a kind and supportive staff and volunteers embrace this desire to learn.
Located at 1223 W. Baltimore St., in a building donated by Maryland National Bank, the school is one of the most successful literacy programs in the city and has won acclaim as a model for programs around the country.
Operated by COIL (Communities Organized to Improve Life), a coalition of neighborhood associations, churches and other organizations dedicated to improving life in West and Southwest Baltimore, it is a free adult program in basic reading, writing, arithmetic, life skills and pre-GED instruction. Programs are offered in morning, afternoon and evening sessions. It is a United Way agency.
No one who wants to learn is turned away from The Learning Bank, according to volunteer Edith Lee, 67, who is not only a model teacher there, she is also a perfect role model for her students.
Lee had to drop out of school in the 11th grade to care for her ill father and her mother and six sisters. She married young, had four boys and a girl and for 29 years she lived in projects, raising a family, holding a job as custodian in the Baltimore city schools ++ and never stopped reading and learning.
In 1984, she received her high school diploma. In 1986 she retired from the city and enrolled in a tutor workshop at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. In 1988, Lee volunteered to tutor at The Learning Bank, where she has also served as the volunteer coordinator and teacher of tutors in the Literacy Volunteers of America training workshops. She also teaches a special-interest class for seniors.
Every weekday and many Saturdays, Lee is at the school, and when she is not there, she is often attending bible class at the New Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church, 1129 N. Gilmor St., where she sings in the choir and where her youngest son, Paul Edward Lee, is the pastor. Her daughter, Doris J. Lyles, is an evangelist in the same church.
"Learning is a lifelong process," says Lee, who continues to read extensively and attend workshops for professional development. Recently, she scored at the senior college level on a standardized test.
Sister Mary Judith Schmelz is director of The Learning Bank. She says that volunteer tutors, classroom aides, supervisors of the computer center, fund-raisers and clerical help are needed. "Someone with a special expertise who would give a two-week class on the subject would be welcome," she says, adding that a program offering parenting and personal skills classes are planned and will need volunteers.
A tutor workshop will be held at The Learning Bank from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on three Saturdays, Sept. 14, 21 and 28. To volunteer any help, call Sister Mary Judith at 659-5452.