Time spent reading to one’s children is joyful and fun. But for parents who cannot read, or are not native speakers of the language used in the books, this joyful experience can, instead, be anxious and difficult.
It’s a familiar experience for several families of students at Toledo’s Queen of Apostles School, where parents cannot share books (or homework or teacher conferences) with their kids. They also experience problems dealing with health care professionals, bank personnel, store clerks and other service workers.
Help for the household
School principal, Sister Joselyn Weeman, met with representatives of two other community groups, Adelante and Read for Literacy, to discuss ways to help her students and parents. Read for Literacy, with grants from the Toledo Community Foundation, Owens-Illinois, and the Andersons, helped create a program at the school to help Spanish-speaking parents learn to read, write, and speak English. The program, Creating Family Readers, gives support to those families who need help communicating with people outside their homes while providing them with confidence in reading and writing English.
Maira Galvan, whose parents spoke Spanish when she was a child, is the Director of the English Language Learners program that meets at the school Tuesday nights. She explains that the entire family, children included, are invited for dinner, then RFL volunteers and their guests work on English conversation. The meals are healthy meals— another way to educate the children— featuring favorite family foods.
After dinner conversation
After dinner, the adults work with Maira to develop adult literacy, including training in parenting, life skills, resources to support reading, writing and listening, conversational skills and financial literacy. The children, divided by age ranges, work on homework with other RFL volunteers. Younger children work with “reader friends” with puppets, books, cookies sheets and other tools. Older students work on skilled writing and reading exercises, and are encouraged to model reading for their younger siblings.
Preschoolers work with volunteers on early literacy activities, including alphabet recognition. The dialogic method encourages the child to “become the teller of the story,” creating dialog about the story and interaction when it is read out loud.
A strong beginning
Ms. Galvan reports that the program (in its second 12-week session) had great success. 80% of their families increased their reading scores, and 75% increased their writing skills. “I think they like that they are learning at their own pace,” she said, “and we find that adults feel more comfortable when they know their children are comfortable.”
Sister Joselyn echoes those sentiments. “Our teachers are so pleased to hear the children talk about the program. We are very grateful to Read for Literacy for helping our families. What a joy it was to see one of our moms read a story in English to her child for the first time!”