U4 Newsletter: Literacy

In today’s  district newsletter, Dr. Wiegand opens the door to talk about Literacy and announces a new “joint district committee” (in collaboration with Urbana School District 116); the new joint district committee will researching various ways to enhance literacy in birth through 2nd grade students, and they hope to rope in business leaders and college reps.


What is interesting is that four elementary schools already have some kind of literacy project in place, but the only details I can find is that it involves volunteers coming in to read to students. On the one hand, I think this is a great way to allow the community to come in the school doors. On the other hand, is that it? Please note I am not trying to be negative or critical – perhaps volunteers reading to children is in fact the best thing to do at this point in time. I do not claim to know. I am curious.


I am still very much reminded of Great at Eight and wondering where that is going.


6 Responses to “U4 Newsletter: Literacy”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    My take. “Literacy” is a word that encompasses almost everything to do with written language. So when you read that someone’s developing a literacy program, it would be wise to assume they’re focusing on some aspect of it that is important and under-addressed. A big part of the school day is taken up with activities that either need or develop literacy; it’s not like there’s some large void in their education.

    I’m in the camp that believes strongly that reading to your kids when they are young is critical – birth through 2nd grade sounds good, through elementary school is better. The value of sitting on your couch with your kids and reading something captivating is huge. They learn a number of important skills long before they can read or write, like going through a book from beginning to end and letting the story progress, following the action with pictures and interacting with the story through touch and Q/A, physically handling the pages and being involved in the mechanics of choosing a story, etc. I could go on. Those are all skills that just don’t develop when you plop a kid down in front of the TV – and I personally think that the mass media model is fatally flawed when commercials interrupt and distract from the content. We promised ourselves we would never resort to TV as a babysitter. I think we were mostly successful.

    I say all this because Wiegand’s intention to include the preschool years in the research is very, very important. That’s the void. We need to recognize that there are families in our community where what I’ve described does not and could not happen, particularly because (in my opinion) people who grew up without that experience AND have weak reading skills don’t do it at home with their own kids, thus perpetuating the problem. There’s also something of a resource issue – we always had a ton of age-appropriate books sitting around waiting to be read or re-read. Getting the right books into those homes would be a good thing to ask of corporate and college partners.

    When my kids were in elementary school I spent time in the classroom reading to the class. I also spent time working with struggling readers, one on one, and I came to realize that there’s another HUGE payoff in letting kids read to you. It’s great to watch their confidence develop over weeks and months – that’s the kind of individual commitment that is needed to make it work, and it can’t happen without volunteers.

    In my opinion, the schools have all the tools they need in the classroom to teach kids with the right experience, and few options to compensate for that missing experience. I think it’s right for the district to work on ways to jump-start the process at home before the kids reach Kindergarten. I guess I’m a little skeptical, though, that anyone can make a large dent in the problem.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Good point, G. David,

    Again, I have to go back to the Illinois Voices “Great at Eight” initiative; I don’t find when they mention literacy as a focal point, per se, but rather they hammer home “whole child” education. They have a whole section carved out for “birth to 5”:

    I am curious if we can kickstart the collaboration with Urbana by teaming up with Illinois Voices and get some of the initial ground work out of the way.

    But ultimately, like you said, we need volunteers. I would take that a step further and say we need a focused way to make volunteers feel like they are well organized and welcomed in all schools. Some parents on this blog have shared how they sometimes do not feel welcome; in my own experience, when I started volunteering several years ago, I felt totally lost. I think we have a large number of folks in this community who would readily and gladly jump on the opportunity to help in the schools. Somehow we (a very ambiguous “we”) need to find a way to make the message clear that they are welcome and the schools are ready for them to sign up. At least, that is my thought.

    PS – I am in total agreement about reading to kids and letting them read to you; I can add my own stories about seeing amazing things happen.

  3. Jackie Says:

    I’m not sure how the “community-wide literacy initiatives” as mentioned in the newsletter gets “transformed” into volunteers feeling welcomed/not welcomed to listen to/read to students in schools. My understanding is that the buildings already have volunteer & mentor coordinators–if there is a complaint about a specific building or coordinator not being effective or not being welcoming, then I’d suggest taking that feedback to that person to give them a chance to fix it, and if there’s no response there, bring it to the attention of the appropriate administrator. Because of our college and university students, our local communities have an abundance of untrained (and semi-trained) volunteers in comparison to many districts. I personally do not support a volunteer recruitment/welcoming effort apart from what is already embedded within the school systems–I would rather support and enhance what exists currently than try to “invent” something different.
    I’d recommend that anyone with an interest in volunteering work through their building/district infrastructure rather than trying to create a separate system. It takes valuable time for teachers and school staff to make sure volunteers are appropriately background-checked, trained, supported, supervised, scheduled, etc. The students involved are also generally pulled out of something to participate–depending on the options in that child’s day, maybe it’s a good thing, but maybe it’s not . . .
    Here are some of the things that I believe are addressed appropriately with “community-wide literacy initiatives”:
    1. facilitating coordination and collaboration across the variety of community-based literacy providers (or social services groups that could add some literacy). Examples include: adult literacy providers, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, correctional institutions, employment training centers, substance abuse and counseling centers, housing centers, centers providing services to infants and very young children . . as well as schools at all levels
    The collaboration could result in better funding–being able to go after grants, “high profile”, community-wide fundraising–community-focused program evaluation, and perhaps some coordination of volunteer or staff training efforts
    2. Literacy support & instruction from these various providers to reach people who are not in K-12 schools, and to support/enhance school programs for that age group. Examples include: supporting parents and adults via instruction in financial and health literacy; teaching parents of infants, toddlers, and young children how to support language, vocabulary,and early literacy skills in their children; helping get books and literacy materials in the homes of families; computer literacy for adults; literacy instruction and other supports for families of folks learning English as a new language; GED services; workforce training/re-training; basic skills instruction for pre-GED adults, afterschool and/or summer programs for preK-12 students
    3. Efforts could also go toward creating access and services in areas that are necessary for healthy development and literacy–access to good health care and nutrition, vision and hearing screenings and needed treatment, access to mental health services, affordable access to high quality day care and preschool programs,

  4. pattsi Says:

    Jackie, are there not already many organizations that focus on your #2 and 3 suggestions? Maybe the issue has more to do with helping the community understand what is available, more cross fertilization among these organizations, and a reduction of turf protection. In other words, some wheels already exist, why not just add oil?

  5. Jackie Says:

    Pattsi-that’s exactly it, I think. It’s more about coordination–adding some oil, and perhaps “beefing up” some supports.

  6. pattsi Says:

    Adding oil is the easy part. Difficulty comes with the turf protection factor. 🙂 Nonetheless, this is a most worthy project to be pursued.

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