Part III: EMPOWERING FAMILIES
Written by Liz Bertrand
As we look at Read Charlotte Transformation Network’s first year, another important aspect of the program is empowering parents and other caretakers with tools to use at home to promote reading and literacy. Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt , RCTN co-lead at Reedy Creek Elementary School has seen an incredible response to Family Literacy Nights this year. Among the events have been workshops on Active Reading Mentor Training, so parents and caretakers can learn to read with their scholars rather than to them. By incorporating a few simple, evidence-based steps, they can transform the reading experience to improve children’s language skills, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Govan-Hunt, an educational advocate, works to bridge the gap between families and schools through her volunteer work with the Charlotte affiliate of Black Child Development Institute. For more than five years, she has been involved at Reedy Creek, helping the school identify what barriers were standing in the way of getting more parents involved in the Parent Teacher Organization. Based on this information, they began hosting quarterly Parent Empowerment Nights several years ago, providing dinner and sharing information with parents so they could better support their kids at school.
“The difference between then and now is [that] there is a core literacy focus,” says Govan-Hunt, who has seen as many as 200 families participate in Reedy Creek’s Family Literacy Nights.
She has plenty of stories about the amazing response people are having to it, like the big, brawny man sitting quietly at the back of the room during one presentation who came up afterwards with tears streaming down his face, asking, “Where have you all been?”
“We see [parents] in the grocery store and they say, ‘when’s the next one?” says Govan-Hunt. She hears them advising one another to get involved by attending upcoming events too. One of the keys to success has been the collaborative nature of the initiative.
“I’m absolutely grateful for Read Charlotte because they say, we want to work with you not for you. We’re not coming in to save you. We’re not implementing these things for you. We’re going to implement this as a community,” says Govan-Hunt.
Throughout the year, teachers from other schools started coming to Reedy Creek’s Family Literacy Nights too, asking how they could do something similar in their communities. Govan-Hunt and other volunteers didn’t wait for an official roll out; they went to work immediately helping to implement RCTN strategies at four other schools.
At Winterfield, a school where HELPS tutoring was already taking place, more than 300 families showed up to a recent Family Literacy Night. Twenty-two different languages are spoken by the families who make up this school and 60% of the students are getting direct English Learning services but that hasn’t stood in the way.
“It was a beautiful example,” says Govan-Hunt. “Even though there were several different languages being spoken, every single parent there wanted the best for their children.
“People have excuses for everything of why they won’t work. They forget the one reason it will work: parents want the best for their children. And when they are given enough information and the support and the resources on how to apply that information, they will make the best decisions for their children. When they are reminded that they are their child’s first and most important educator, and that they hold the power right there in the palm of their hands to grow healthy strong children, to grow strong readers, they will do everything in their power to make that happen.”
In Part IV, we will share some of the ways RCTN is connecting with community partners.
A CALL TO ACTION
RCTN is off to a powerful start, but to reach the 80% goal of all third graders achieving reading proficiency by 2025, these efforts must continue and expand. Charlotteans will need to mobilize in ways we have never seen before to impact all 59 schools Read Charlotte has identified as essential to reaching this goal.
“That’s our greatest opportunity and our biggest challenge,” says volunteer RCTN co-lead Marc Dickmann.
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