Several recent conversations have me thinking about “big issues” in Unit 4. The kind that really matter. I am not saying I know what they are or that I have found all of them, but I am beginning to see that Literacy is a big deal. More so because it is not isolated to Unit 4 and definitely crosses over into community responsibilities as well.
First I would like to paint a background picture of what is framing my thoughts.
I. Great at 8 (Voices for Illinois Children): Project Director Madelyn James has indicated to me that the “Great at 8” initiative aims to raise awareness and strives to get more people involved in the political machine. Especially in light of the significant decrease in State dollars coming into Education and Community Support buckets. She is also working with Community Engagement Associate Jessica Roberts to start community dialogues. You can imagine that perked my curiosity. 🙂 Voices has sponsored a “Kids Count” data book and now an upcoming Symposium in Chicago; from what I have seen so far, they seem paint a somewhat grim picture of reality and attempt to elicit passion and sympathy for our children’s potential. Yet I have not really found much to sink my teeth into – where are the practical steps I can take right here and right now?
Literacy—Foundational literacy skills are critical and it is our goal in Unit 4 to have all students reading at their grade level by third grade. We are committed to early intervention and accelerating all students to ensure their future academic success.
Obviously, she recognizes and acknowledges that this is an issue worthy of our attention. I am curious what form “early intervention” takes and how it helps, practically speaking, to accelerate all students.
III. This morning, I had a most excellent talk with the Carrie Busey Principal (Jeff Scott) and another parent. We talked about issues in the learning environment, and especially how some children do really well while others do not. It seems like those that struggle have a significant challenge in the classroom because of what happens outside the classroom; some kids are not ready to learn, others are willing but the material is slower to sink in. There were personal accounts of how some 2nd graders were still struggling with learning their letters. While I believe it is entirely possible for these very children to be “Great at 8”, they were not yet on that path. Which leads me to this post.
How do we get all children to be “Great at 8”, to have achieved 3rd grade reading levels by the end of 3rd grade? How do we adjust and adapt for those students that do not learn well in the current instruction models?
Some ideas we talked about involved getting more parents involved. [Put on Cap of Utiopia +5] Even if your child (or children) is doing great, what would it look like if more parents were helping in the classrooms with small groups of kids that need special attention? What if parents could rearrange their schedules to help other families after school; even if it was not focused on providing “instruction” or going over homework, but just living. What if a family was not able to pay the power bill and the child was having trouble sleeping because it was too cold? Or how about this; what if you are a parent at a totally awesome school that has “too many” volunteers – could you volunteer at a school that was less fortunate? At Carrie Busey, we will debut a program called “Helping Hands” modeled after a program at Heritage Elementary in the Huron Valley School District (Michigan), a program that links resources with needs in the school community. Just one step among many possibilities.
We can shake and shuffle the 6 hours that a child is in school – we can change the pace, we can focus on different things, we can do a lot. But there is so much more going on outside those walls that play a part of the picture. And this is where I start thinking Social Justice. I am not saying, by any means, that our schools are perfect and we should just let them do whatever they are doing. No, let us work to improve things both inside and outside the classrooms. But we need more people. The few that are doing it now are in trouble of burning out.
Like Madelyn James, I also want to raise awareness. I think once people realize what the situation is, it makes it easier to start forming action plans and taking steps. I hope.
UPDATE: I should add that I have had many similar conversations over the years and I know folks (looking at you, Chuck Jackson) have had literacy on the mind for quite some time.