On May 16, the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven convened a breakfast forum at the Wilson Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library in the city’s Hill neighborhood. The theme was “Literacy Partnerships, K-12 and Beyond: Paths to the Workplace and Parent Involvement.”
The event featured opening remarks by Connecticut State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, followed by a panel discussion. President Dorsey Kendrick of Gateway Community College was the first panelist. Two nonprofit executive directors, Erik Clemons of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) and Maria Campos Harlow of the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW), spoke in turn. Christopher Korenowsky, who directs the New Haven Public Library, served as host and moderator. There was mention of the Literacy Coalition and its “LiteracyEveryday” website, which was launched with support from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
Speaking the day after Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed compromise education legislation (S.B. 458) into law, Stefan Pryor expressed relief and eagerness to collaborate with people on all sides on implementing the new law. “We need to work together,” he said. After talking about school funding, he acknowledged the role of the state legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, including in advocating for added focus on reading in the early grades. (1) This will happen in a pilot and, increasingly, statewide. The aim is for students to “achieve mastery” in reading by grade 3. The commissioner alluded to a 2011 Casey Foundation study (Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation—available on the resources page at LiteracyEveryday) that documented high-school dropout or at least delayed graduation rates as four times higher for those who did not read proficiently in grade 3 than for proficient readers. He noted July 1, 2013 as the deadline for a coordinated statewide reading plan.
Commissioner Pryor referred to a Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS) to be created for early childhood programs, to ensure a more uniformly high caliber of early care and learning while working with communities to fill up to 1000 additional preschool slots that the new law provides, as a result of changes legislators made to the original S.B. 24 (which called for 500 new slots). He spoke of the new commissioner’s network of schools and of bolstering educational “talent” in part through evaluation, to help teachers “get up to the next level.” He characterized the great majority of the state’s teachers and school leaders as “professionals ... who make it happen” in schools. His conclusion: “We’re creating a full, coherent system that we can invest in over time.”
Dorsey Kendrick proudly described Gateway Community College’s new downtown New Haven facility, soon to open after years of development with the City and State, and programs from computer technology to early childhood education. She emphasized that the average age of a Gateway student is 28, 60 percent of students are women, and more than 300 students are military veterans. These students range from part-time, non-degree participants to associate’s degree earners who have proceeded to institutions including Yale, Smith College, and many others. She cited partnerships with employers via the regional Workforce Alliance, with the New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) and Public Library, and with Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, which will have a classroom on the new Gateway campus. There, volunteers will help adults to enhance their English language and reading skills. She also mentioned legislation the General Assembly passed this spring to limit Connecticut community college students to a single semester of non-credit, remedial classes—the kind of challenge with which Gateway’s partnership with Literacy Volunteers will be helpful. (2) The escalating costs of college and the evolving demands of the economy and of technology continue to make community colleges an essential component of higher education, one to which President Barack Obama and his administration often call attention. (3)
Evoking a Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation initiative called “Achieving the Dream,” Gateway President Kendrick connected it to the mission of this community college. She concluded, “We take students wherever they are and help them realize their dreams” and “maximize their human potential.” (4)
Erik Clemons appeared on the panel as a nonprofit executive director and as a parent leader. He introduced himself as a member of the NHPS reform committee and citywide PTO, as well as a husband and the father of four daughters who have attended New Haven public schools. He told of how, a decade ago, he was a postal worker who was moved by reading David Walker’s Appeal, an 1829 book that inspired him to become an avid reader. After that, Erik Clemons enrolled in Housatonic Community College and eventually Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), from which he graduated at age 39. He credits SCSU Professor of Sociology Shirley Jackson (who happens to be the Literacy Coalition’s newest board member) as a mentor. At LEAP (Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership), he served as a student intern, then board member, then executive director. From that post, he was recruited to become founding executive director of ConnCAT.
ConnCAT, part of a national network of such organizations affiliated with a Pittsburgh endeavor established by Bill Strickland, provides both summer and after-school programming in the arts and technology to high schoolers and workforce preparation to adults. The latter group, in order to be accepted into ConnCAT’s training programs for phlebotomy and medical coding (in tandem with Yale-New Haven Hospital) must have either a high-school diploma or a GED or must pass a literacy test that assumes skills a 10th- or 11th-grader should possess. Executive Director Clemons said that so far, three in ten candidates cannot pass the literacy test. Accordingly, ConnCAT—like Gateway—has dedicated a classroom for Literacy Volunteers to work with adults to raise their reading levels.
Erik Clemons believes in what he called “the love and joy of reading.” He argued that for parents and children alike, reading has to be “affirmed.” In his words, adult literacy is “the anchor.” (5)
Maria Campos Harlow, executive director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford, discussed the many alliances that SCOW has with public and nonprofit agencies across Wallingford and beyond. She spoke of efforts to address cultural and language barriers that parents may experience in interacting with teachers and school administrators. Like Junta for Progressive Action (another member of the Literacy Coalition) in New Haven, SCOW works with families from early childhood, through school age, to adult education, on ESL classes, workforce and citizenship preparation, and financial literacy. SCOW will mark its 40th anniversary with a “Noche de Musica” benefit event on Saturday, June 23; a 7 p.m. reception will be followed by an 8 p.m. concert at Choate by acclaimed mariachi performers from New York. SCOW itself has helped launch what she proclaimed as “the first and only” mariachi academy in New England.
Christopher Korenowsky moderated the panel and, in thanking the other speakers, remarked on how their various realms reflect the spirit of partnership with which the New Haven Public Library approaches its work. Observing that this is the 125th anniversary year of the Public Library, he described its three main goals as to support: 1) academic success for students; 2) strong neighborhoods; and 3) economic development in New Haven. He spoke enthusiastically of one example of the Public Library’s ever-closer connection with the Public Schools: a library card will be given to every NHPS kindergartner in the fall, with kindergartners and their families encouraged to visit the library regularly. Other examples are the relationships of the branch libraries with public schools in their neighborhoods. The Fair Haven branch, Fair Haven School, Junta, and New Haven Adult Education form one such collaboration.
Beyond this Literacy Forum’s salient theme of partnership, one recurring topic was the importance of supplementary (private as well as public) fund-raising, about which both Dorsey Kendrick and Christopher Korenowsky (half-) joked, and to which Maria Campos Harlow also alluded in inviting people to attend SCOW’s anniversary event on June 23.
How most effectively to engage parents—including those with difficult work schedules, limited English skills (as Maria Campos Harlow stressed), and/or little confidence as readers themselves (as Erik Clemons underscored)—was a central question. At the May 16 forum, it was observed that classroom teachers themselves were of course unable to attend; they were busy doing the fundamental work of teaching students. However, also noted was the presence at the event of people and groups that can help to support families, teachers, and ultimately students. For example, both the New Haven Public Schools’ chief of “wraparound” services (Susan Weisselberg) and a new staffer with the related United Way of Greater New Haven “BOOST” program (Tirzah Kemp) were there.
During the question and comment session, Alderwoman Brenda Jones-Barnes of New Haven’s 13th ward introduced herself as a Hillhouse High School graduate and a parent of New Haven Public School graduates. She and Erik Clemons were recently part of a New Haven delegation that traveled to Boston to explore the “Parent University” operating there, among other cities. She advocated for expanded hours of operation in New Haven’s public branch libraries.
Anthony DiLauro, executive director of Read to Grow (with the motto, “building literacy from birth”) and a Literacy Coalition board member, offered to give away thousands of books his organization had solicited. In addition, he invited colleagues on nonprofit boards to participate in a June 8 board training that Read to Grow is sponsoring, with expertise from the Fundraising School, Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, and BoardSource. (Contact Read to Grow at 203.488.6800.)
Another Literacy Coalition board member cited various Coalition partners and the LiteracyEveryday website—with portals to Get Help, Volunteer, Donate, and Learn More, as well as a blog and a News/Events calendar. He reinforced the need for additional volunteer tutors and mentors at such organizations as New Haven Reads, the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, Junta, and Literacy Volunteers.
Other May 16 attendees included colleagues from the Community Foundation and New Alliance Foundation; the New Haven Public Schools (ranging from K-8 and Adult Education principals to an educator specializing in English language instruction, the chief of wraparound services, and the liaison to the School Development program); Junta for Progressive Action; the United Way of Greater New Haven; Gateway Community College; the Connecticut chapter of Reach Out and Read; New Haven affiliates of the state’s Nurturing Families Network; Hamden nonprofit Destined to Succeed; the Workforce Alliance; current and prospective literacy volunteers working with both children and adults; and staff from New Haven Reads and Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven.
Several Coalition board members attended, including Kirsten Levinsohn of New Haven Reads, Susan Monroe of Housatonic Community College, Sandra Santy of the Connecticut Humanities Council, and Sandra Trevino of Junta, as well as Anthony DiLauro of Read to Grow, Bill Armstrong of the Public Library and Curtis Hill of Concepts for Adaptive Learning—who helped to organize the Literacy Forum. (In addition, this reporter is a member of the board.)
Participants discussed challenges of literacy and numeracy learning—in school and in the broader community—and the role of technology both in instruction and in the workplace. Consensus emerged on the importance of supporting and integrating the reading and learning that occur at home, in school, in preparation for the workforce, and on the job.
Neighbors are invited to visit the Literacy Resource Center on Winchester Avenue, in space at 4 Science Park donated by Science Park Development Corporation. The Literacy Resource Center, or LRC, represents a partnership among Concepts for Adaptive Learning, the Coalition, New Haven Reads, Literacy Volunteers, and the Economic Development Corporation. Upstairs in the same building at 4 Science Park are the offices, classrooms, and art gallery of ConnCAT.
You can help by:
*Reading in the home, promoted by libraries such as the New Haven Public Library—and involving grandparents as well as parents, and free books from sources including Read to Grow and New Haven Reads;
*Encouraging friends, family, and others to seek literacy assistance whenever useful;
*Volunteering as a tutor or mentor, including through New Haven Reads, Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, the New Haven Public School Foundation, and the Jewish Coalition for Literacy;
*Bolstering literacy in other ways, such as through donations of money—whether directly, via the Community Foundation or the United Way—or of books and by advocating and voting.
Waiting lists among learners at providers including Junta for Progressive Action, New Haven Reads, and Literacy Volunteers demonstrate the strong demand for their services. Even as it serves hundreds of students at multiple sites through its tutors, New Haven Reads alone has a waiting list of some 200 additional students seeking tutors.
Participants in the May 16 event, and prior such occasions, came from New Haven public schools and a range of other organizations. Here is a partial list, including some already mentioned:
* Concepts for Adaptive Learning, which equips and trains parents (and also supports teachers) in New Haven and other Connecticut cities to use computing technology for their own and their children’s learning;
* Jewish Coalition for Literacy, a project of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which brings volunteer “reading partners” into several New Haven public schools;
* Junta for Progressive Action, which offers English as a second language, family support, financial literacy, legal assistance, and workforce preparation services;
* Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, which serves adults;
* New Haven Reads and its Book Bank, providing free books for all ages and tutoring for school-age students;
* Reach Out and Read, which promotes reading through primary care physicians and their offices;
* Read to Grow, which emphasizes early literacy with partners including hospitals, and provides free books to children of all ages;
* Workforce Alliance, joining employers, workers, and training opportunities;
* Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a partnership between Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools that offers professional development to district teachers in a collegial setting, with the resulting curricular resources available online to parents and students as well as teachers.
The Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization with a mission to promote, support, and advance literacy for people of all ages in our region. Visit LiteracyEveryday to share or obtain information on free events, resources, and ways to get involved in pursuit of a region of readers.
Earlier articles on the Coalition:
(1) In a May 15, 2012 statement on the enactment of Connecticut’s education reform measure, S.B. 458, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited the primacy of strengthening literacy, among other aspects of the new law. He said in part, “I commend Connecticut for coming together to enact meaningful education reforms that will benefit students. I know the negotiations on S.B. 458 were difficult, but Governor Malloy and the Legislature, business, unions, educators, and advocates were committed to begin fixing what is broken in public schools. The final bill includes important reforms in early reading…”
(2) See May 9, 2012 article by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas in the Connecticut Mirror.
(3) President Obama in 2012 has proposed a Community College to Career Fund, after in 2009 having included community colleges in his administration’s American Graduation Initiative. Though that initiative was ultimately funded in 2010 at a level of $2 billion rather than the $12 billion he sought in multi-year incremental funding for community colleges, such efforts reflect increasing recognition of the role of these institutions.
(4) Postsecondary Success is a 2009 publication from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; it refers to the Lumina Foundation’s “Achieving the Dream” initiative, through which since 2004 the Gates and Lumina Foundations—among other organizations—have collaborated. The State of Connecticut and both Houstatonic and Norwalk Community Colleges received three-year grants from the Gates Foundation through this initiative, as announced June 22, 2009.
(5) On the importance of adult literacy, see for example facts from ProLiteracy (last updated February 10, 2011), including data indicating that at least four in ten adults in the U.S. read below a high-school level. In addition, some 43 percent of adults “with the lowest literacy rates in the United States live in poverty.” ProLiteracy continues, “Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States: More than 65 percent of all state and federal corrections inmates can be classified as low literate. Low health literacy costs between $106 billion and $236 billion each year in the U.S. Seventy-seven million Americans have only a 2-in-3 chance of correctly reading an over-the-counter drug label or understanding their child’s vaccination chart. Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.”
See also “Literacy, Every Day,” a September 2011 article.