News Articles

He found an answer to prayer in Baptist literacy program

CENTER POINT, Ala. (BP)–He’s a planning engineer for Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant, with an engineering degree. In his church, he’s the assistant music director and a Sunday school teacher for 9- to 12-year-olds. He serves as treasurer for his son’s athletic booster club and attends softball clinics with his daughter.
Who would ever guess that such a dedicated family man and model citizen would be enrolled in adult literacy classes? On the surface, Royce Decker certainly doesn’t seem to have a problem with reading and writing. But he does.
It is not the reading or comprehending that is the problem, said Decker, a member of Fellowship Baptist Church, Center Point, Ala. It is the spelling.
“I just don’t know how to spell,” he said, noting it is a problem that cannot be hidden. “We all have problems, but mine comes to the surface quicker because it has to do with writing.”
In his job, he said, more importance is placed on written communication than even knowing how to work the equipment.
Nearing his fourth year of literacy work with the Birmingham (Ala.) Baptist Association’s adult literacy program, Decker believes he is finally making progress. He spent years searching for help and putting out lots of money for business-based literacy programs.
The others never understood his problem, Decker said. “They always wanted me to read a book to them and explain what I had read.” It was not until he met with Doris Harris, literacy tutor and director of the association’s Center for Family Resourcing and Development, that someone understood his needs.
The center’s workers knew what Decker needed because they’re trained to make that assessment, Harris said. Instead of a lot of rigorous tests, they test the student on how he or she relates to the materials used for tutoring. As the student works through books on the basics of reading, writing and phonics, students are ranked on their ability. “Once we find the student’s struggle point, we start there,” Harris noted.
Phonics is a big problem for a lot of people, she said. The student may be able to read at a higher level but cannot spell the words without looking at them. This inability restricts the student from advancing, so he or she must start the learning process from basic, one syllable words.
“That’s where I started,” Decker said. The first sentence he learned to spell from dictation was: “The rib is big.” And that took about 15 minutes, he noted. Today, Decker is spelling sentences such as: “Holly wanted to camouflage the dented fender, but instead she made it worse.”
His 15 minutes of deliberation has also decreased to almost no time at all. “He starts spelling before I finish reading the sentence,” Harris remarked.
Decker credits God for guiding him to the associational ministry.
“I was driving home one night from work at midnight, and the advertisement came on the radio,” he said. “I had been praying for God to find someone to help me because the other programs were not working,” he said, noting he had never heard of the association’s program before that night. “Prayer made the difference.”
Decker’s supervisors at Alabama Power Company have noticed his advancements. Decker was even recommended for Auburn’s master of business administration degree program by one of his supervisors. Electing to turn down the opportunity due to time restrictions, Decker said he was pleased to know that the same supervisors who had noted his problem were now praising his accomplishments.
After all, it was a supervisor who suggested Decker get help if he wanted to advance in his job. They noticed writing a three-page report took him from eight to 12 hours, Decker said. “Now I can write a three-page report on the computer in about four hours.”
Requiring him to write out words spontaneously and immediately is what alerted Decker’s fifth-grade schoolteacher that he had a problem. He made A’s in every other subject, but when it came to spelling or writing essays in class, Decker struggled.
Describing himself as a self-motivator, Decker figured out ways to pass his classes. He learned to do his absolute best in the areas he was strong in to could pull up the low grades he would undoubtedly receive in English.
This philosophy aided him in college as well. Decker pulled many all-nighters just memorizing the spelling of words that would be on his tests.
As long as the work could be done outside of class without a time demand and with access to a dictionary, Decker said he made good grades. He took English 101 six times at the University of Alabama in Birmingham before passing. Still, in 1976 Decker received a general engineering degree from the university and has continued to focus on electrical and mechanical areas of engineering.
Decker’s experience with English classes and spelling restrictions allows him to now encourage his 12-year-old daughter, Jessica, who loves history and science but also has trouble with spelling.
“It’s the same trail I’ve already blazed,” he said. He has met with Jessica’s teachers and explained his history. This helps the tutors better meet Jessica’s needs, he said.
But the best help Decker has been able to provide for Jessica is to enroll her in the same program he is doing at the Baptist association. She has met with a tutor at Hugh’s Memorial Baptist Church for about four months now. “We are already seeing improvement,” Decker proudly commented.

    About the Author

  • Jennifer Davis