RapidBlog: Schools of Hope, by Lindsay McHolme

Lindsay McHolme is the Community Literacy Liaison at the Literacy Center of West Michigan.  Over the past few years, she has been involved in improving literacy in the community as a Volunteer Tutor and Literacy Coordinator for the Literacy Center's Adult Tutoring Program.


As Community Literacy Liaison at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Lindsay McHolme is involved in affecting improved literacy in Grand Rapids.  She writes about organizations that provide literacy in the community.

When I visited Burton Elementary School recently to observe a family literacy class, I expected to encounter a wall of tater tot cafeteria odor and grimy halls. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a newly-renovated and fragrant entryway with sparkling floors.

A two-year physical renovation, completed in 2009, is just one of the many innovative changes Burton Elementary has made to improve students' overall experience.

Last year, Burton Elementary decided to reach out to parents too. In 2010, they began hosting the Schools of Hope Family Literacy Program, a program that improves parents' English language skills.

The program is directed by Tom Branigan at the Literacy Center of West Michigan in collaboration with United Way and Grand Rapids Public Schools.    

"Schools of Hope makes a difference in the lives of families by increasing the capacity of parents to support their children," says Tom Branigan, Family Literacy Director at the Literacy Center. "It increases a child's chance of success in learning and increases the capacity of parents to compete more effectively in the workplace."

According to the National Center for Family Literacy, adults and children participating in family literacy programs demonstrate greater gains in literacy than adults or children in age-focused programs.

After observing Americorps member Melissa Stek's class at Burton Elementary, I'm sure this is the case.

I arrived just in time to watch Melissa finish up a grammar lesson with her English Language Learners. The students chanted beginning level English phrases in unison: "Is she here?  Yes, she is. No, she's not." Next, Melissa reinforced the day's grammar lesson with a picture story activity, walking the students through strategies to incorporate learning activities into their homes and improve their reading in English.

As the lesson closed, Melissa encouraged her students, "I know it's difficult, but that's why we keep practicing. Poco a poco."

Optional activities outside of class reinforce what students learn in their weekly ESL classes. Many students participate in monthly Family Literacy nights where families and teachers eat dinner together and parents have the opportunity to speak English with their children. Families that attend receive books to read with their children at home.

Melissa's students are learning English "little by little," and it shows. Just recently, her students took a Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System test. The test showed that the entire class had made outstanding gains in English reading and listening skills.

Parents are also making great strides toward personal goals like helping their children in school, becoming more independent in day-to-day living and improving their English vocabulary and pronunciation.

Melissa's class isn't the only one to experience this kind of success. Overall, last year, not only did the parents make gains in their literacy, but 33% of the children whose parents participated in the program showed improvement on their standardized tests, whereas only 21.4% of comparison students improved.

The program has also grown quickly. Piloted in 2009 by Harrison Park Elementary, the Schools of Hope Family Literacy Program has doubled in size in just two years, now serving 153 adults at six elementary schools.

The hope is that as parents improve their literacy skills, children will follow in their footsteps, brightening the future for families in our community.

For more information about the Schools of Hope Family Literacy Program, please call the Literacy Center of West Michigan at (616) 459-5151.

Photo Credit: Hugo Claudin

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