Monday, April 12, 2010
I'm taking a break between sessions at the National Conference on Family Literacy. Midway through the second day and I am already exhausted! There is such a wealth of knowledge and experience and a sense of communal purpose. Most of the attendees are teachers or community educators. Because my own limited experience with literacy programs has focused on children, I imagined much of the content would be related to early childhood initiatives but the broader goal of the National Center for Family Literacy is to reach entire families.
Many of the speakers have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with English as a second language, and the effect that adult literacy programs have had on their lives, and the lives of their families is truly inspiring. Kay Brown, the 2010 Toyota Teacher of the Year Award winner runs the Union Parish Family Literacy Center in Monroe, LA underscored the need for parents' confidence to be built up so they can share their new skills with their children. Education empowers parents to help their own children to succeed and set higher goals for themselves. Everyone wants to be heard and to be acknowledged and it is important to give parents the tools to work with. These might look like ordinary schoolteachers lining up for a fajita bar, but they are absolutely extraordinary for their ability to empower people through literacy!
Yesterday's keynote speakers were Sean and Collins Tuohy, the adoptive father and daughter portrayed in The Blind Side. Their message was powerful, even though they kept the audience laughing with a light tone and familial banter. They emphasized the importance of what they refer to as "cheerful giving" and reflected on ways family involvement and simply understanding and acknowledging the need for different avenues of learning can aid in a child's education.
Today, Byron Pitts talked about overcoming being diagnosed as functionally illiterate as a child in East Baltimore. He spoke about how the courage and compassion of family literacy educators helped him beat the odds to become an award-winning journalist and correspondent on 60 Minutes. He also discussed his recent travels to Afghanistan, where 50% of adult men and 90% of adult women are illiterate and how the US must put "books before bullets" by combatting illiteracy before training Afghans as soldiers. "How can you expect a population to embrace democracy when they can't even spell the word?" he asked. Pitts also underscored the importance of reaching out to others in need whenever possible and shared personal stories from his own life to further his message. He also signed copies of his book, Step Out on Nothing, for four hours… I went to two other sessions after his and he was still there, talking to fans about his life! (FYI: If you purchase the book from NCFL partner Better World Books, 100% of proceeds will be donated to literacy funding.)
I attended a remarkable presentation by Partners in Development, about their Ka Pa'alana Traveling Preschool and Homeless Outreach program that serves houseless families along the Leeward Coast of O‘ahu. I was saddened to learn how much the homeless epidemic has grown in Hawaii since I was growing up on the Windward side twenty years ago. Their program has been going on for three years now and it seems like they have made great strides, building yurts as classrooms and providing much-needed outreach and peer mentoring to older kids, too. I was also impressed (but not surprised!) that the Hawaiians brought food for their audience. (Right on!)
There was also a really enlightening (seriously!) panel discussion about the newly-revamped Electric Company. I remember the old series fondly from my childhood and got a real kick out of hearing how it's been tailored for a contemporary kid viewership. Three of the performers from the show were on the panel, plus the website coordinator and producers and all of them had great things to say about motivating kids to want to learn to read and to love words and music.
And if that wasn't enough, I got to meet Clifford the Big Red Dog. How cool is that?!