This past fall the state of Virginia joined the ranks of 33 other states in receiving a large infusion of Federal dollars for family literacy. The program is referred to as the Even Start Statewide Initiative, and the money is to be used to increase the capacity and quality of family literacy education in Virginia. Currently, there are 16 programs being funded throughout the state, using the comprehensive federal model for family literacy education. (More on this later.) In addition to approximately $200,000 from Washington, the state has provided matching money, which is going toward improving literacy programs, administered through local adult education departments or literacy organizations.
All of the literacy programs now operating in Virginia are eligible for services under a new consortium called Project REACH (Resources to Support Education for Adults and Children), which has been formed by the Virginia DOE.
Project Reach has been meeting since early in 2002 to determine what the agenda for family literacy should be throughout the state and how the different entities that make up the consortium can work together for maximum effectiveness. One important goal of Project Reach is to develop an organizational structure so that there is a central point of reference for all family literacy needs and services. Other activities that will be addressed are staff training and public awareness.
The vision statement of Project Reach is as follows:
Virginia families in need of literacy and other educational services in every community across the state will have access to high quality family literacy programs that incorporate the broad range of services provided by public and private organizations in order to break the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy by helping parents in their role as their children's first teacher so that children become successful and adults become lifelong learners.
This challenging vision presents an opportunity for libraries to partner with local programs to achieve success. Project Reach's goal is to have a family literacy program in every community in Virginia. We know that libraries have a strong tradition in helping to develop and reinforce the joy of reading among children of all ages. We have the materials and programs already in place to help parents expand on their ability to be their child's first teacher. We have expertise about the best children's literature. We know how to read aloud to children - a skill that we can model for parents and caregivers. In short, libraries can perform a vital role in helping Virginia to achieve its vision for Project Reach.
But first, we need to educate ourselves about family literacy. It is one of those concepts that we hear a lot about, but maybe we are not quite sure what is meant by family literacy. Family literacy programs can best be thought about in terms of the breadth and intensity of the services they provide. The federal government has weighed in on the subject with the definition of a comprehensive family literacy program (attached at end of this article).
This model represents the most ambitious family literacy response and incorporates four distinct components. They are: adult education, early-childhood education, parenting skills, and Parent and Child Together Time (PACT). All four of these components must be present within each program day. The targets for time spent on each component on a monthly basis are 60 hours of adult education, 20 hours of parenting education (parent time and PACT), and 65 hours of early-childhood education. It is also important that the four components be well integrated, which can be accomplished through staff planning time and strong relationships among staff.
Obviously, libraries are not going to re-fashion their services along the federal model, and that is true for most family literacy providers. The comprehensive model requires a great many resources. The North Carolina Center for Family Literacy uses the term family-centered or family-focused for any services that contain two or more of the four components. A family-centered, childhood-education program would certainly include childhood education, and could also offer parenting skills and some PACT time on a limited basis. A familycentered adult education program might include, in addition to classroom instruction for adults, some lessons in parenting skills and some parent-and-child-together time.
Similarly, a library program for preschoolers could include two of the four components (childhood education and PACT time) by inviting parents to stay for story hour and a story-stretcher activity afterwards. Both child and parent are introduced to a book, and book sharing is modeled for the parent.
Another level of service would be the family literacy activity. This term can be used to describe a program where only one component of the federal model is offered. Traditional pre-school story hours, where the parent waits outside the story room, would be an example of a family literacy activity. Likewise, an evening program for parents about the importance of reading aloud would be a family literacy activity.
Family literacy is a big tent, and there is room for just about any format that seems reasonable and doable. Project Reach invites libraries to stretch their thinking and partner with other local, literacy providers to build capacity and quality by working together. A quality program builds upon the strengths of individual families and empowers them to reach a higher level of achievement in the areas of education and parenting. The most exciting outcome of this effort is that families are then able to pass along these higher-level skills to the next generation. Since most literacy providers work almost exclusively with adults, and even family-centered, adult literacy programs are focused on the adult learner, it is vitally important that libraries seek out opportunities to bring their expertise with children's books and literature to these programs.
With the help of libraries, parents who complete family literacy programs will be able to develop and maintain appropriate expectations for their child's educational achievement, and they will develop a secure relationship with their child by actively embracing their parenting role in appropriate and positive ways, especially as it relates to reading and literacy.
Embracing the goals of family literacy is not just a role for public libraries. School libraries and academic libraries need to adopt this holistic family-centered approach to literacy by providing support to parents and children at all stages of their literacy development. One way to do this is to form community partnerships with adult literacy providers and with the public library. All students at all levels need to visit the public library and get library cards. All parents should be exposed to simple techniques for reading aloud and sharing books with children. All parents and children need to be introduced to the best literature we have to offer.
The following Family Literacy Goal Statements for Public Libraries were developed in conjunction with members of the Youth Services Advisory Committee of the Library of Virginia. Our hope is that libraries throughout the Commonwealth will use them as a framework for addressing family literacy concerns.
In every library in Virginia:
Youth Services staff is knowledgeable about the concepts, goals, and practices used in family literacy programs.
Youth Services staff is knowledgeable about current research concerning early childhood development as it relates to emergent literacy. The library promotes its services and collections to support the literacy needs of the community.
The library actively networks with family literacy providers in the community to offer activities that further the goals of local programs.
The library is the point of contact for citizens seeking information about family literacy programs and services.
The Project Reach Consortium is considering several ideas for supporting local family literacy efforts: a newsletter, a Website, regional training, and, recognizing the dif- ficulty of funding new initiatives during these trying budget times, a grant-writing workshop. We will also be looking at facilitating local partnerships in communities that have comprehensive family literacy programs on the federal model. We are counting on school, public, and academic libraries to help us achieve our goals.
For further reading, I would suggest an excellent article by Debra Wilcox Johnson, "Breaking the Cycle: The Role of Libraries in Family Literacy." RQ Spring 1993 v32 n3 p318(4). The full text of this article is available on Infotrac through the Find It Virginia database. As Johnson states, "Libraries, as community agencies, have the opportunity to make a change in the communities they serve by initiating or increasing their involvement in local family literacy efforts." "United in Learning" is the slogan for Project Reach - and a partnership opportunity for libraries.
Federal Definition of Family Literacy
Family literacy services are defined as:
services of sufficient intensity in terms of hours, and of suf- ficient duration, to make sustainable changes in a family, and that integrate all of the following:
a) interactive literacy programs between parents and their children
b) training for parents regarding how to be their children's primary teachers and full partners in their education
c) parent literacy training that leads to economic selfsufficiencyA
d) age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences
Source: Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Even Start)
Head Start Act
Reading Excellence Act
Workforce Investment Act (Adult Education and Family Literacy Act)
Community Services Block Grant Act (CSBG)
[Correlation to comprehensive family literacy programs: a) parent and children interaction time (PACT), b) parent time, c) adult basic education, d) childhood education]
Pat Muller is at the Library of Virginia. She can be reached at PMuller@lva.lib.va.us .