Jane Hodges Crater of Columbus and Sarasota, Florida, is pictured Thursday in Sarasota with a few materials in her "Astronauts to Zippers" literacy program. The Mississippi University for Women professor emerita's six-level program for all ages has been used extensively in private and home school curriculum. Her passion for improving America's illiteracy problem has inspired her to now make the program available in video lessons online free to anyone who wants to learn to read. Photo by: Rhea Badakhshanian/Courtesy photo
February 3, 2018 10:04:30 PM
Jane Hodges Crater is vivacious, determined, energetic, and sometimes, appalled. Appalled that more than 30 million adults in the United States can't read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. It's a fact the retired educator has spent decades of her life trying to change.
"Did you know that illiteracy in America is a leading cause of crime, violence and poverty?" Crater said. "If we could eliminate illiteracy it would reduce human suffering as well as $18 billion per year it costs to the U.S. economy."
The Mississippi University for Women professor emerita of education isn't in the habit of sitting idly by, and today, on her 80th birthday, she remains as committed as ever to doing something about it.
Upon retirement in 1996 from her 25-year university career training teachers for the classroom, Crater poured her vast expertise into creating "Astronauts to Zippers," a complete literacy program that teaches reading, writing, spelling, phonemic awareness, handwriting and phonics. It can be used by beginning readers of any age -- young readers, older students having difficulty, former students who did not finish their education, or adults learning English as a second language.
She went "on the road" to conferences to market the program, which has been used extensively in private- and home-schooling curriculums. It consists of six levels, 144 lessons, teacher manuals, six student workbooks and 72 readers.
And then what does Crater do? She decided recently to give it all away -- to make "Astronauts to Zippers" accessible online to anybody who needs it.
"I wanted to make it available to anyone who wanted to learn to read, any place in the world, and I wanted it to be free," she said. "I wanted there to be English literacy for all."
Crater and her husband, John, are dual-city dwellers, living part of each year in Columbus and part in Sarasota, Florida, near her son.
A Booneville native, she first arrived in Columbus in 1955 to attend The W. She was only 16. But Crater graduated in three and one-half years and began graduate classes. She taught at The W's Demonstration School.
"I knew how to use a program, but I had no idea of how to teach a child or anybody else how to read," she admitted. She credits graduate school instructor Jim Califf with changing that. Crater, who calls herself a victim of the sight word method of teaching reading, learned to teach with phonics.
"In my first graduate class, I learned that letters represent sounds and that phonics is the only logical way to teach reading," Crater said.
Virginia "Bitty" Lindsey of Columbus was librarian at Demonstration at the time. She used a program Crater developed to work with children who needed extra help, particularly a transitional first-grade group of 10 children who weren't prepared to enter first grade after a year of kindergarten.
Lindsey taught Crater's system for a half-hour every day for a semester. Results were significant.
"The transition first-graders in the 'Astronauts to Zippers' program actually scored higher on the Advantage Learning's STARS Assessment program than the expected score of an average first grader," Lindsey said. She recalled one student who advanced from reading at pre-K level all the way up to second-grade level.
"The program is wonderful, very concrete, very straightforward and applicable to all," said Lindsey, who even used it later with her own grandchild.
"I started her at about 4 1/2 and, boy, she caught on in a hurry and loved the activities that went along with it."
The years at Demonstration were formative and inspiring for Crater, who earned her doctorate of education at Ole Miss after receiving her master's degree from The W.
"I wouldn't take anything for the two years I had at Dem," she said. "That was 40 years ago, and (a group of us) still get together every Wednesday."
Among Crater's accomplishments that endorse her approach is JCI Literacy, a program she designed to improve literacy skills of incarcerated juvenile offenders in the 1990s.
"When I learned that 85 percent of incarcerated juveniles are illiterate, I wrote a proposal to teach the teachers how to teach with phonics in juvenile correctional institutions," explained Crater, who taught dozens of workshops to implement the program.
Donald Taylor, then director of Youth Services for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, wrote to her in 1995:
"Since October 1992, we have paroled 1,654 students. To date, 105 have returned, for a recidivism rate of 9.97 percent! This phenomenal success rate can be attributed in large measure to the remedial literacy program we emplaced with your help ... .
"Moreover, since the results of your study ... our literacy gains have been even more profound. According to the best information available to me, we are now realizing gains of 2.4 grade levels."
Task at hand
The decision to give away "Astronauts to Zippers" evolved after Crater and her husband began dividing their time between Mississippi and Florida. She chose to leave behind the travel required to actively market her program, but cared too much to consign her life's work to the attic. She wanted to get it to the public.
"I just didn't know how to do it," she said.
When husband John mentioned his wife's idea to his physical therapist, he connected the Craters to someone in PR who realized its potential. A plan was created to make "Astronauts to Zippers" online a reality.
Crater believed in the project so much that she and John provided initial funding. Now they are teamed with Social Good Fund, a partner with tax-deductible status, so they can seek and accept donations and literacy grants. Donations are accepted at English Literacy for All, 7538 Quinto Dr., Sarasota, Florida 34238. (Checks should be made out to Social Good Fund, with English Literacy for All on the memo line.)
Crater is thrilled to be working with a professional team to get all six levels into video lessons on the website, Englishliteracyforall.com. To date, Level One has been completed, with 24 video lessons free to homeschool parents, teachers in regular and special education classrooms, in juvenile correctional facilities, adult literacy classes and to individuals.
It's a huge, costly undertaking, and Crater is passionate about it.
"I can't imagine being illiterate and trying to cope," she said. "You can't read the instructions on a medicine bottle, can't read ingredients in a recipe ... "
Improve literacy and you improve lives, she believes.
"You set people up to succeed, not fail."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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