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Los Angeles To Combat Illiteracy With a 'Sesame Street' for Adults

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Los Angeles officials are planning an ambitious, televised assault on illiteracy that is being dubbed "the 'Sesame Street' for adults."

Aimed at a target audience of school dropouts, welfare recipients, and the underemployed, "Opportunity U.S.A.: The Discovery Series" will teach reading, writing, and other basic skills to the estimated 1.5 million functionally illiterate adults in the Los Angeles area.

Planners say they hope to tap the creative energies of the area's large entertainment community to enliven the series of 160 half-hour videos, which will be offered to local television stations.

"'Sesame Street' doesn't just teach, it does so entertainingly," said Emily Chappell, executive director of the project, referring to the popular children's program on public television.

"That is what we are going to do," she explained. "It will have a very high interest level."

The "Discovery" project was announced in late June by Mayor Tom Bradley and city commissioners. The city is providing office assistance and other support for the venture, but organizers plan to raise $1.8 million privately to produce the video series.

The project is based on a similar 1988 series used to teach English and American history to Los Angeles-area immigrants seeking amnesty.

To Seek Commercial Sponsors

Once funds are raised and the programs are produced, organizers will seek sponsorship to run them daily on commercial television stations. Study guides will be printed in local newspapers, and videocassettes of the shows will be distributed through libraries, churches, and other agencies.

Ms. Chappell said she had been in touch with well-known television producers about the project and has hopes that a variety of Hollywood celebrities can be persuaded to put in guest appearances on the shows.

Plans call for the programs to be ready to air by next spring, she said.

The Los Angeles project is "certainly the most ambitious of its type," according to Don LeBrecht, executive director of the Productivity Council of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Literacy programs on television can be effective for adults, he said, because the medium "reaches them in a personal and private way."

"The individual doesn't have to embarrass himself by going to a class and saying, 'I don't know how to read,"' he said.--mw

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