The Literacy Project teaches 15,000 adult students in 30 years

GREENFIELD — In a classroom at the top floor of the E.A Hall Building on Bank Row, Joe Panzica of Greenfield tirelessly teaches adult students how to read, write and do math at the same time he is trying to build their confidence and motivation.

For 16 years, Panzica has taught at The Literacy Project, a nonprofit that provides basic skills for adults who for one reason or another left high school without graduating. Along with 19 other staff members, Panzica tries to help individuals reach their goals, whether it is to become a better reader, complete the High School Equivalency Test, formerly known as the GED, or go to community college.

“I always tell (students) that they did it. It’s up to them. They were able to recruit my help,” Panzica said. “I hope I made a difference, but it’s really their success.

“I’m always trying to find a way to build the necessary confidence and motivation to persevere in the face of difficulty. I’m always trying to find the right balance of support and challenge.”

This fall, the Literacy Project celebrates its 30th anniversary in Greenfield.

Since 1984, the Literacy Project has served 15,000 people, teaching adults computer skills, nutrition and health, reading, writing, math and job skills.

Each year, roughly 400 students enroll in classes at one of the five community centers in Greenfield, Amherst, Northampton, Orange and Ware.

“We’re helping folks who are turning their lives around by accessing education,” said Executive Director Judith Roberts. “We’re holding the door open for courageous adult students.”

Classes start again on Tuesday . It is open enrollment. Students can enter the program at any point during the year.

There are two levels of classes that are offered. Each run Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The emerging readers and writers class, the beginner session, teaches students basic reading, writing and math skills from the first grade to seventh grade level. The second-level class focuses on lessons from seventh grade to high school completion.

Students can also get assistance in preparing a job resume and filling out college applications.

Nearly 100 percent of the students who come to the Literacy Project say the reason that they want their equivalency credential is that they want to get a job, move up in the job they have or get a better job, Roberts said.

“But while the students are with us studying for the test, we also teach poetry, write resumes, get them registered to vote, get library cards, learn computer skills and take nutrition classes to eat healthy on a SNAP budget.”

The Literacy Project was founded in 1984 by Lindy Whiton, Jim Vaughan and Phil Rabinowitz.

With little funding but a mission to teach adults to read, the Literacy Project quickly grew and added classes in Greenfield, Orange, Northampton and Ware. In 1987, it was named by the Association for Community Based Education as one of the 10 best adult education programs in the country.

Many of the people that come to the Literacy Project are overcoming obstacles like being parents, working toward career goals, being homeless, living in shelters. Some have been court-ordered to obtain their GED and some are in recovery from addiction or mental illness.

“Low literacy is synonymous with poverty,” Roberts said. “Improving those skills and making plans for jobs or higher education and for the next step is really a way to make one’s life better.”

According to the nonprofit, more than 16,000 adults in Franklin and Hampshire counties do not have either a GED or a high school diploma. Without a high school diploma, many people are stuck in poverty.

Last school year, 400 students enrolled in the program. Of those students, 67 received their GED, 32 went on to community college, and 36 obtained a raise or promotion.

How to enroll

To enroll in classes, call 774-3934 to schedule a meeting with staff.

To enroll, a person must be at least 16 and not enrolled in public school. If under 18, a person will need a letter from their last high school that confirms that they have officially withdrawn.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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