Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaching Literacy Strategies to Homeless Children and Individuals in Secure Care Facilities

This has been the year of travel! My job has taken me to various places around the nation and the world to present, train, and observe literacy instruction. This year, I have traveled to New York City twice, India, the Middle East, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. Last week, I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona. The purpose of my trip to Arizona was two-fold: 1) to present literacy strategies at the Arizona Correctional Educators Conference in Tempe; and 2) to make site visits to locations where literacy training is being implemented. 
I had the privilege of visiting the Children First Academy in Phoenix, the largest school for homeless kids in the nation, which is part of the Sequoia School District. Sequoia Schools are non-profit, K-12 public charter schools. I had heard about Children First Academy in January, and I was very intrigued by it. I had visited their website and read the speech that one of the students gave at a fundraiser. (It's amazing, by the way, as it provides a glimpse into the realities of life as a kid who comes from a homeless background. You can read Janet's speech here.) When I arrived at the school, I was greeted by Dina Gerdon, Community Development Director, and warmly welcomed by the principal and superintendent. This school has been using Reading Horizons since the beginning of January, and they have grown to love the program. There is a new principal at the school, and he said the first thing the teachers said to him when he arrived at the school was, "Don't take our Reading Horizons away!" The superintendent and I then had an engaging conversation about the importance of reading and literacy, and we discussed implementing a program for parents to learn to read English along with their children at Children First Academy. I'm very impressed with the support the principal and superintendent offer the school, including professional development, technology, and other resources.

I was taken on a tour of the school by two eighth-grade students. They showed me the literacy center, the cafeteria, the nurse's office, and the storehouse where students and parents pick up donated clothing, food, and home furnishings on a regular basis as needed. I also had the opportunity to visit a couple classrooms and watch the teachers teaching Reading Horizons. I heard great feedback from the teachers and students about the program. One of the eighth-graders who took me on the tour of the school told me that she feels like she's seen improvement in her reading since she started using the Reading Horizons program. (She didn't know that I worked with Reading Horizons curriculum when she told me this.) One of the teachers said she's been brought to tears seeing her students learning to read for the first time. (Watch the video below, or click here.) I hope to continue to be involved in this school's progress.

I am also very impressed with the work being done in correctional education in Arizona. I had experience specifically with the Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA). There are so many dedicated professionals who are passionate about what they do. I had the opportunity to attend the MCESA Youth Transition Advisory council meeting with several influential educators, administrators, and superintendents who are determined to make the necessary connections to create a sustainable model for educating youth in transitional education contexts.

I also met several educators and administrators involved in correctional education at the Arizona Correctional Educators (ACE) Conference. My presentation entitled "Literacy Strategies for Individuals in Secure Care" was very-well received, and I was fortunate enough to have received very positive feedback on the presentation evaluation forms completed by attendees, which demonstrates their enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new literacy strategies to help their students.

I am grateful for the passionate individuals who strive to make valuable contributions to students in their communities in the this part of the world. If you have any experiences about valuable contributions by teachers in your part of the world, feel free to share them!

(See also my post on Teaching the Homeless to Read.)

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