By Margaret Brown
All Ages Read Together (AART) and Loudoun Literacy Council (LLC) have created a new program to improve the literacy of entire families in Loudoun County. Both organizations are repeat 100WomenStrong grant recipients due to their innovative approach to helping county residents solve problems in the areas of literacy and school readiness.
As the groups pointed out in their grant proposal, according to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), 16% of the county’s school-aged children are economically disadvantaged, and a long-term impact of child poverty is lower educational attainment.
To alleviate some of the issues created by the impact of poverty on children and their families, the groups created a joint program, funded by 100Women Strong, that serve the families of children participating in AART’s free pre-school readiness program held at HealthWorks.
Sandra Shihadeh, AART president and co-founder, explained that teachers and volunteers noticed how often families, particularly mothers, were staying at a location and waiting while their children participated in AART activities.
“These families are so dedicated, they will walk in the snow or rain to be here,” Shihadeh said. “Some of them had to walk so far that if they tried to go home, they would just have to turn right back around to pick up their child. As a result, we had moms, as well as younger siblings, who would wait for the program to finish.
“One of our former teachers took note, and we discussed approaching them to see if they would be interested in learning better English skills while their children were in AART. There was an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response,” Shihadeh said.
In stepped the LLC to provide these families with free Adult Literacy ESL classes that take place while their children participate in AART.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve the literacy of entire families, empowering them to reach their full potential within the Loudoun County community,” Leslie Mazeska, LLC Executive Director, shared. “To break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, it is important to serve not only the youngest children within the families, but to improve and increase literacy services for adult family members and older siblings of these children as well. Making classes as accessible as possible for parents to attend increases the likelihood that participants will stick with it and see positive results.”
The goals of the joint AART/LLC project include:
- Improving literacy skills for children and adult family members of the children in the AART program;
- Encouraging at least 60% of participants achieve at least one personal literacy related goal (e.g. obtain a driver’s license, complete a job application, etc.);
- Accomplishing a 75% increase in time reading and other literacy activities for these families, and;
- Increasing book ownership for adults and children in the program.
Shihadeh feels that AART and LLC have created a winning strategy to help solve literacy problems in our community. “We are making positive changes with our joint efforts thanks in large part to the funding support of 100WomenStrong” she said.