Helping adults help their kids learn

Literacy: Nonprofit group works to provide parents with the language skills needed to help their children with homework.

March 07, 2001|By Cathi Higgins | Cathi Higgins,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Parents helping children with homework is a common ritual in most homes. But some mothers and fathers can't help because they lack adequate reading and writing skills, or they don't understand English.

When faced with this problem in Howard County elementary schools, Project Literacy offers assistance.

The nonprofit adult literacy organization provides adults with free help and support in basic reading and writing skills. The program is run under the direction of the Howard County library system and receives additional funds from grants and donations from businesses and community organizations.

"There is a great need," said Beth Ivey, a Laurel Woods Elementary School counselor. "At our first class this year, 30 people showed up. The big issue is the problem parents have doing the children's homework with them."

Focus groups helped to determine that Spanish-speaking families had the biggest need for the service. Programs operate at Running Book, Phelps Luck and Laurel Woods Elementary schools.

In conjunction with the school's English for Speakers of Other Languages programs, Dr. Janet Carsetti, director of Project Literacy, developed bilingual programs for parents whose children attended these schools. The program is available to anyone living or working in Howard County.

Carsetti said the program is "based on the hypothesis that children can't do better in school if the parents can't help. Without help, the child will get further and further behind."

The program operates two evenings a week at Phelps Luck, one evening a week at Laurel Woods and two days a week at Running Brook. Ninety-four adults are involved in the program, mostly family members of schoolchildren. The classes are small, with six to 12 adults in each, and one-on-one tutoring is available.

Classes teach parents Spanish and English because some non-English-speaking parents lack reading and writing skills in their language. Carsetti said 95 percent of the adults in the program have less than a sixth-grade education in their countries.

Involvement in the program is a sacrifice for parents, Carsetti said, because "some parents work two jobs and walk to the school for the classes." On-site child care, with bilingual caregivers, is available.

Carsetti said the program is successful because "the teachers tell us that the parents don't stand outside the school anymore - they come inside and talk to the teachers. They are more involved."

Last year, Carsetti received a three-year grant from the State Department of Education to hire teachers to work with the groups. However, volunteers are an important part of the program.

When certified public accountant Catherine Chiccone retired a few years ago, she was moved by stories of adults learning to read and how it changed their lives. Chiccone decided to volunteer for Project Literacy "because I wanted to give back, and reading was very important to me."

She is proud of the progress she has seen in the people she tutors. "Their confidence has grown," she said. "It may be little changes, but I know the history of this person is going to change and in turn their children's future is going to change."

Chiccone tutors one-on-one and teaches small groups twice a week at Running Brook.

Carsetti said that all adults in the program last year showed progress on the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) literacy tests.

While there are no statistics on the effectiveness of the program for the children, the teachers report good results.

The program "is a great bridge between home and school," said Rosa Pope, Phelps Luck's ESOL community liaison.

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