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    Sharing Successes in the Keystone State: Inspiring Literacy Initiatives Across Pennsylvania

    By Aileen Hower
     | Jul 11, 2019
    collaborative-pl-2

    The Keystone State Literacy Association (KSLA), the Pennsylvania affiliate of
    the International Literacy Association (ILA), is celebrating 50 years of literacy
    leadership across our state this year. At our fall statewide leadership meeting, we
    took the time to share about the wide variety of chapter projects and initiatives
    currently being implemented. There was a great deal of positive energy around
    widespread sharing of ideas.

    After a gallery walk, chapters were able to elaborate on some of the most
    innovative ideas. Chapter leaders enjoyed hearing about similar and new ideas
    for how to serve our members and communities. It was an awe-inspiring time of
    collaboration and connection.

    A few commonalities emerged from the ideas shared. Most ideas fell into the
    following categories: professional learning, advocacy, and engaging with families
    and communities.

    Professional learning

    • Throughout the state, KSLA chapters hold "Teachers as Readers" events to
      talk about and promote the reading of current children's, middle grade, and
      young adult books. Many councils invite the coordinators of the Keystone to
      Reading Book Awards to present on the current books that students can read
      and vote for. The Keystone to Reading Book Awards is a yearly recognition
      of a current picture, poetry, or chapter book, awarded annually at our state
      conference. The awards are chosen entirely by Pennsylvania students.
    • Across the state, especially in chapters such as Central Western, online and
      in-person professional book clubs are being held with members, other local
      teachers, and teachers from other parts of the state.
    • At times, such as with the Brandywine Valley Forge and Delaware Valley
      chapters, miniconferences are held to engage with teachers in specific areas
      and at times outside of our annual conference. This year, topics include
      "Building Community With Social Justice Poetry," "How to Talk About Race
      in Your Classroom," and "Raising Social Awareness Through Conversations
      and Mentor Texts."
    Advocacy

    • A few chapters, such as Franklin County, share literacy information and
      establish partnerships with local doctors' offices, as well as provide books to
      children during wellness checks.
    • Franklin County was also recognized by Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of education for their work in collaborating with the local intermediate unit to service students who attend a migrant education summer program in their area.
    • We continue to host department of education representatives at our annual conference as well as invite a “standing” member, who focuses her work on language arts, to attend our biannual leadership/statewide meetings.
    • Various chapter leaders attend department of education meetings to share the latest research about literacy with various divisions and statewide initiatives.
    Engaging with families and communities

    • Our Lancaster-Lebanon chapter gives their Celebrate Literacy Award to local literacy initiatives such as "Police, Read to Me."
    • Susquehanna Valley holds “Read to Me Please” summer reading programs for preschool students at a local playground.
    • Many of our chapters participate in laundromat library projects. Books are collected throughout the year at chapter events and baskets are placed in local laundromats so children have something to read while their family is there. In some chapters, books are also donated to women’s shelters or in places where children wait while their parents attend a court hearing.
    • A number of chapters, such as Schuylkill, have established Story Walks through local parks.
    • Across the state, chapters are partnering with other community organizations such as Kiwanis, Salvation Army, the United Way, and local libraries.
    The ideas shared at our meeting were as diverse and unique as each of our local chapters. Most recently, chapters have been holding casual get-togethers for networking and have even been offering painting, massage, and relaxing coloring events to boost teacher morale.

    Those chapters that serve regions that are large in square footage work to host regional or online events. Chapters that represent more diverse populations or urban centers stay committed to serving those communities, ensuring children receive books and families and caregivers learn helpful ideas for promoting literacy in the home. Especially in a time when teachers find attending large conferences difficult, but still desire to keep their literacy teaching skills sharp, all chapters serve their members by hosting authors and professional development speakers, and studying the latest in literacy research.

    We are so proud of all of our members and thankful for our local leaders for their tireless love of and commitment to promoting literacy throughout a lifetime.

    Aileen Hower, an ILA member since 2008, is president of the Keystone State Literacy Association.

    This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    Read to Me: A Campaign to Make Reading a Regular, Family Routine Across Croatia

    By Marina Meić
     | Jun 05, 2019
    lt366-croatia2-ldThe Croatian Reading Association (CroRa), an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, was established in 1991. Since then, CroRa has participated in many campaigns that advocate for reading and literacy. One of them—the biggest such campaign in Croatia—is Read to Me!, which started in 2013.

    Read to Me! is coorganized with the Croatian Library Association - Children and Youth Services Commission, Croatian Paediatric Society, and the Croatian Association of Researchers in Children's Literature, with support from UNICEF.
     
    Read to Me! aims to encourage families, caregivers, and other adults to start reading to children as soon as they are born. In that way, reading can become a part of their daily routine. It also helps create special emotional bonds. The aim of the campaign is to include all families and children and to make reading for at least 15 minutes a day a habit. 

    The campaign also aims to encourage families with young children to come 
    to their local library as soon as possible. There they will get information on early read-aloud benefits, how and when to start reading to children, lists of quality picture books, and how to choose age­-appropriate books. Picture books are typically the first contact a child has with literature and the written word in general, which is why paying special attention to the quality of picture books is so important. 

    The Read to Me! campaign sends the message that picture books should take precedence when choosing toys from the earliest age, and that families and caregivers can change the lives of their children by their own example by fostering good reading habits. In addition to the family, children's libraries, preschools, and pediatricians are viewed as key factors affecting the development  of early and family literacy. One of the campaign's aims is to encourage cooperation among libraries, kindergartens, and doctor's offices to raise awareness of their institution's important role in creating a culture of reading. 

    Over the past six years, there have been more than 1,000 events organized as part of the campaign, and more than 50,000 children have participated. The campaign has included picture book exhibitions; read-alouds in public libraries, squares, pediatrician's offices, and children's hospitals; and presentations for families about the importance of reading to children. Many activities have also involved local celebrities and well-known leaders ­including actors, singers, writers, and doctors. Stories and books have traveled in bookmobiles around the country to places where children don't have library access. 

    The first anniversary of Read to Me! was celebrated on International Children's Book Day, April 2, 2014, in the Cvrcak kindergarten, with a play in which the campaign organizers, actors, and children presented in a fun way the excellent results of 
    the campaign, which has united the whole country with the aim of making reading a daily habit for all families. Every year, the campaign continues to celebrate its birthday in a different town in Croatia. 

    Through this campaign, CroRa also celebrates International Book Giving Day each February 14 with an activity called I Read, I Give, and I'm Very Happy. People are invited to donate picture books to libraries, which then forward the books to children's hospitals, foster homes, children's SOS villages, and other charity organizations. In the last three years more than 9,000 picture books have been distributed across Croatia. 

    Thousands upon thousands of children and families have been impacted by this campaign in the past six years, and we look forward to seeing the campaign's impact continue to grow in the years to come. 

    For more information about Read to Me!, visit citajmi.info/uvodna.

    Marina Meić, a new ILA member, is a Montessori educator and vice president of the Croatian Reading Association's Split branch. She is an ILA 2019 30 Under 30 honoree. 
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    Finding Family in the Community

    By Allister Chang
     | Apr 18, 2019
    chang-LTIn an episode of the This American Life public radio program called "What's Going On In There?," Ira Glass shares the story of a Chinese-American son who can't speak to his father. The father never taught his son Chinese, but the father also never learned English. This almost happened to me! My parents, aunts, and uncles had learned Chinese as children, and they thought their kids would pick up the language naturally on their own—­as they themselves had—and they spoke to me in broken English. I was developing a Chinese accent when I spoke English, and I also wasn't learning any Chinese ­until a librarian intervened. 

    After speaking with this librarian, my parents spoke to me only in Chinese, providing me an opportunity to grow up bilingual. Thinking back on my childhood, I remember many specific interventions like this one, where a kind, thoughtful, and brave educator stepped up to make an intervention that changed the course of my life. 

    I think that these kinds of transformative interventions—the ones that determine whether you'll share a common language with your own father—are possible coming only from people that you trust. As recent immigrants to the United States with limited English fluency, and an even more limited social network, knowing who to trust wasn't easy for my parents. Ads left and right promised scams. Who could we trust besides family? 

    My mother is the one who brought our local library into the family (and vice versa). As a kid, she escaped boredom by hiding in wealthier families' gardens to listen in on TV sets. When they chased her away, she read books. We would fill a bag of books for her at our local library in Maryland every week. When she finished reading every available Chinese language book in our local library system, the librarians ordered new Chinese titles. 

    We began to build trusting relationships with our local librarians, and the world opened up to us in new ways. They alerted us to scams and referred us to relevant resources that we would otherwise have never looked for. 

    We had found people who we trusted, and I am deeply grateful that we put our trust in kind people who just happened to be experts at guiding the wandering and the lost. 

    Allister Chang is a 2019 ILA 30 Under 30 honoree. Chang, the former executive director of Libraries Without Borders. is an affiliate with Harvard University's Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, and a fellow with Voqal. a philanthropic organization that uses technology and media to advance social equity. 

    This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    Access to Literacy: An Inalienable Right to Quality Education

    By Anasthasie N. Liberiste-Osirus
     | Apr 03, 2019
    access-literacy

    Within the world of international education, there are more than 175 million children unable to read. In Latin America alone—in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, and Haiti—the national literacy average is below 80% countrywide. When looking specifically at Haiti, there is a 49% literacy rate, which makes it the lowest in the western hemisphere and the 12th lowest globally.

    Such numbers are shocking and call for a global paradigm shift centered on access interventions that support a culture of literacy.

    The issue at large

    Students everywhere have an inalienable right to quality education and literacy resources, but they are being denied this right because of systemic variables that are far too great to maneuver alone.

    Because of the generational and situational poverty within rural communities in Haiti, many children are subjected to toxic stressors as well as lack of available print and the foundational skills necessary to achieve academically. Yet reading is one of the core foundational skills needed for academic and economical success in modern society. Reading allows one to discover unfamiliar realms, provides exposure to vocabulary, develops positive self-image, invites creativity, and navigates the vehicle of change when one is forced to endure difficult situations.

    You see, starting the academic race late can have larger critical implications for societal growth in the long run. Research has shown us that a country's success in national academic assessments, such as in reading and math, can account for more than 70% of that country's economic growth. In countries such as Haiti, with large disparities in the acquisition of reading and writing skills, this link is daunting when considering national assessment results that reveal incoming third graders' zero fluency rate in either Haitian Creole or French.

    So what can be done to mitigate this harsh reality?

    Children's Rights to Read

    The work we do at the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in Haiti program at the University of Notre Dame aims to address these issues. The ACE program strengthens underresourced schools through leadership, research, and professional service, with programs in place across the United States, as well as in Ireland, Chile, and Haiti.

    In Haiti, expanding access is one of the pillars of the program, which began as a way to help rebuild schools across the country following the devastating 2010 earthquake.

    Our mission is supported by the framework of ILA's recently launched Children's Rights to Read initiative. Composed of 10 fundamental rights ILA asserts every child deserves, the campaign aims to activate educators around the world to ensure every child, everywhere, receives access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read.

    This campaign shines a poignant spotlight on the current global literacy crisis.

    Among the rights

    •  Children have the right to access text in print and digital formats.
    • Children have the right to read for pleasure.
    • Children have the right to supportive reading environments with knowledgeable literacy partners.
    • Children have the right to read as a springboard for other forms of communication, such as writing, speaking, and visually representing.
    • Children have the right to benefit from the financial and material resources of governments, agencies, and organizations that support reading and reading instruction.

    Our intervention efforts in Haiti begin with access. Children must be afforded the opportunity to reflect on life's possibilities, and they can do this through high-quality resources such as books.

    There has been a series of interventions around increasing the level of access to books in countries such as Haiti. With many parents having fewer than three books in their homes and schools having minimal access to supplementary books in the classroom, the need to increase a modal response is vital.

    Organizations such as Libraries Without Borders, Library For All, and World Readers, to name a few, have made a ripple effect in the basin of illiteracy in Haiti. The University of Notre Dame's ACE program has also become innovative in its approach to literacy intervention by providing classroom libraries within its supported schools.

    We partner with local organizations to implement literacy interventions that deliver a scripted literacy program, teacher training, supportive coaching, quality resources, and leveled texts within the classroom. The goal is to support emergent readers, strengthen teaching pedagogy, and link community and school, all while increasing access.

    Anecdotal reports from students and teachers clearly demonstrate that they welcome having access to books in their mother tongue of Haitian Creole as well as the language of instruction, French. Students find reading sessions meaningful as they can practice reading all while extending oral vocabulary in Haitian Creole and French.

    Teachers participate in read-aloud sessions that provide students with the occasion to be reflective while thinking critically. The classroom libraries provide manipulatives such as phonics dominoes and vocabulary bingo. Teachers are also trained on the importance of increasing print in the classroom as well as how to set up and use Haitian Creole and French interactive word walls.

    One step at a time

    Though the establishment of schoolwide libraries is ideal for supplementing reading materials, it is not always a feasible option because of the financial constraints of many schools. However, it is important to remember that the battle to shift the axis of access must start small. Our efforts can be building blocks toward larger interventions.

    ILA's Children's Rights to Read initiative is the constant reminder we need that education for all is possible—­one building block at a time.

    Anasthasie N. Liberiste-­Osirus, an ILA member since 2011, is the associate director of the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education in Haiti program.

    This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of 
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Launchpads to Literacy

    By Diana Sharp and Megan Diaz
     | Mar 15, 2019
    launchpads-literacyWhen you think of community organizations that support literacy, what comes to mind? The library, certainly. But what about zoos and aquariums? Or science museums and performing arts centers? Or the city parks department? These organizations and more have been key partners for Explorers Club, a community-wide summer program for preschoolers and their families operating in Tampa, FL's lowest income neighborhood since 2014.

    Through this program, children and their families are not only given free access to these area cultural venues during the summer, but also are engaged in meaningful literacy activities to bring them together as a family, connect them with local resources, and help ensure they are ready for kindergarten.

    How we began

    In 2012, the YMCA and Champions for Children, a nonprofit provider of family education and child abuse prevention programs in the Tampa Bay region, opened a community learning center called Layla's House in the heart of the Sulphur Springs neighborhood. Approximately 40% of Sulphur Springs residents live below the poverty line, close to double the overall poverty rate of Tampa. Layla's House wanted to offer something special in the summer for families of children ages 0- 5.

    At the same time, literacy researchers at RMC Research Corporation were looking for a partner interested in creating a program for supporting the oral language and vocabulary growth of preschool children from economically disadvantaged homes. When the two organizations came together, the adventures began.

    Together, we approached the educational directors at different cultural venues in Tampa. We explained how "school readiness" meant more than knowing numbers and letters. We described research about how oral language and vocabulary need to be strengthened early, and how these skills are key to literacy success in kindergarten and beyond. We also described the important role of building children's knowledge and interests around rich topics such as zoo animals, sea creatures, outer space, and even children's own neighborhoods, so that families could have extended conversations and read more about whatever their children found most fascinating.

    We called the approach Fascinate Forward: looking for things that fascinate a child, then using that fascination to move learning forward. The cultural organizations responded generously and enthusiastically, and Explorers Club was born.

    Visits to the cultural venues are the highlights of Explorers Club activities, but the real power comes from wrapping each visit with layers of fun, intentional learning support. Families meet at Layla's House two mornings a week for activities themed to the places they will visit. Each learning theme takes place over two weeks. The activities at the community center include music and dance, storytimes, crafts, and learning centers, with a heavy emphasis on helping families talk with their children in ways that will support children's learning about each theme before, during, and after the venue visits.

    For most of the venue trips, families have complete flexibility regarding when they will visit. The family members are the primary learning facilitators during the trips, using what they learned at Layla's House to engage their children in conversations about what they see. The partnership with the venues has grown over the years. In addition to providing free tickets, venue staff come to Layla's House, bringing interactive presentations and intriguing items-including live animals.

    This past year, venue staff began lending Layla's House sets of items for a Curiosity Table that was added to the learning centers. For example, the zoo and aquarium lent us real and replica samples of hair, bones, teeth, eggs, feathers-even a tarantula exoskeleton. At the Curiosity Table, children and their families can see, touch, and learn about the items, guided by a university student volunteer.

    Diana Sharp, an ILA member since 1993, is a cognitive psychologist and literacy activist in the Tampa Bay area. working as a senior research associate at RMC Research Corporation.

    Megan Diaz is an undergraduate at the University of South Florida and will be pursuing a masters in speech language pathology.

    This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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