|At New Horizon Learning Center MOM’s the Word|
Kalamazoo, MI— Literacy is more than just a fancy word for knowing how to read and write. It’s an important skill that allows individuals to learn about a variety of things and then communicate effectively what they’ve learned. Unfortunately, 90 million Americans are affected with low or marginal literacy, which impacts their financial stability and limits employment opportunities. In fact, 70 percent of adults with the lowest literacy skills are unemployed or work in part-time jobs. And, children of illiterate parents suffer because their parents are unable to help them with their literacy needs. These children tend to fall behind their peers at school…and the cycle continues.
Staff members at New Horizon Learning Center in Kalamazoo, MI, have taken a stand to break this cycle. In 2006, they launched the Mind Over Matter (MOM) literacy program to help young residents strengthen their ability to read and comprehend.
A Little Investigating Uncovers a Need
MOM began when LaWanda Gardner, center director of New Horizon Learning Center, noticed that many center participants ages five to 18 had very poor reading and writing skills. To determine if this was an issue that needed to be addressed with center programs, Gardner consulted with the center’s volunteer tutors, who confirmed that the students were indeed struggling. Gardner then reviewed the students’ report cards and discovered that the youth were failing in reading, English, and mathematics. Gardner also evaluated the parents’ literacy levels and discovered that a contributing factor to the students’ deficiencies was that their parents also have literacy issues and are unable to help the students with their schoolwork.
These facts painted a disturbing picture that did not sit well with Gardner, and she decided that a strong literacy focus was needed at the center. In collaboration with Penny Reid, center program coordinator, Gardner used structured course outlines obtained from the local school system to develop a basic education curriculum to promote functional literacy.
The MOM program curriculum consists of focused, age- and skill-appropriate reading sessions, spelling, and mathematics. The program is held Tuesday through Friday at the center with children ages five to 12 meeting from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and youth ages 13 to 18 meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Gardener and Reid oversee the younger children and another volunteer tutor facilitates the youth sessions. There are also high school students, who function as tutor helpers, who work with the nine to 12 year olds.
“The participants in MOM attend the area schools,” says Gardener. “Actually, most of them attend the same school, are in the same classes, and have the same reading and spelling lists. So we use these lists in our sessions to help them complete their schoolwork while improving their skills. If, however, the lists differ, we just combine them to create a master list.”
The reading level of each student is determined during a one-on-one reading session with staff. Students are then placed in groups based on their reading ability. In these groups, the students practice reading both in groups and one-on-one sessions. The reading is focused on improving pronunciation, comprehension, and vocabulary. In their sessions, the younger students read one sentence at a time, while the youth read a full paragraph. Staff members are patient with each student, and will work with him or her for extended periods until they improve their reading skills. “We do not advance them to a higher reading level until their reading ability shows that they are ready,” says Gardner.
In the spelling sessions, Gardner and staff employ the cue card method to help students learn words and improve comprehension or meaning of them. Words from their school spelling lists are written on cue cards and students practice how to pronounce and spell them. They also take home one cue card each day and must learn the definition of the word, and be prepared to recite the definition when they return to the session. Students must also use the word in a simple sentence to demonstrate that they understand the meaning of the word and to strengthen their writing skills.
In addition to reading and spelling, the center also offers mathematics sessions every Thursday and will incorporate a center story hour in the near future every Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the nine to 12 age group. “With the center story hour, we want to expose the children to different kinds of books and authors, apart from those on their reading lists,” said Gardner. “We just want them to learn to love to read.”
Gardner is pleased with the program’s impact on the residents. “They love the program and their grades have improved,” says Gardner. “However, I wish we had more support from the parents. We need to forge a stronger partnership with the parents to ensure that the children are consistent in their attendance. This can be a challenge sometimes.” Funding is also a challenge for the center, and Gardner and staff are seeking financial assistance through grants to provide program supplies.
Gardner plans to collaborate more with the school system to encourage parents to support the program, and has taken concrete steps to obtain more volunteers to strengthen the center’s capacity to provide sessions and to help strengthen and expand the curriculum.
The literacy program is still in its infancy, but Gardner sees only good things ahead.
“We will improve our students’ academic standing and help them to become functionally literate adults,” she says. “And New Horizon Village and the surrounding area have a place where children can come and receive free and effective academic assistance.”
For more information about Neighborhood Networks centers in Michigan, contact:
Pamela M. Wildfong
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development–Detroit Office
477 Michigan Avenue, Room 1600
Detroit, MI 48226-2592
Phone: (313) 226–7900 x 8126
Fax: (313) 226–2002
For more information about New Horizon Learning Center, contact:
2708 Heatherdowns Lane
Kalamazoo, MI 49048
Phone: (269) 341–9438
Fax: (269) 341–9438
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Department of Housing and Urban
451 7th Street S.W.,
Washington, DC 20410
708-1112 TTY: (202)