Friday, June 15, 2012

Elders And Rotarians Can Eliminate Illiteracy

Grateful for the Gift of Longevity, Good Health and Energy
Today's Elders who are retired have what elders in times past did not have. We are healthier, we are going to live longer and we are more educated. For all of these I am grateful, and sharing these gifts is important to my well being.  focused on sharing my life. This year I have been graced with five children who have brought me great joy.  Three have major developmental disabilities and two are healthy young boys.

Seeing or schools system through their experiences and seeing parenting children with various gifts and challenges through the eyes of three single moms has expanded my compassion. Each child and each mother has demonstrated extreme differences. Likewise, they have shown the commonalities of getting children educated in systems that are not easy to navigate.

It Takes More Than A Village
"It takes a Village to Raise a Child." A nice saying but it takes wise Elders to raise a village. We read about the need for parents to "Tiger Moms" or "Warrior Parents" to get the kind of education that will bring children to their full potential.  I decided that having a "Loving Elder" from within the community could not hurt. So I have spent time being that Elder for three single mothers with challenges beyond any I faced as a parent. I am their advocate, cheerleader, and strategic partner. It works and I think that we have developed a model to replicate.

Why should an older retired person help with getting children educated? Because they are Elders and need to leave a legacy.  Also, children need to know they live in a community of adults who care if they learn.  Also the kids give hugs and so do their parents.

I have sat through several parent conferences with parents who want the best for their children but lack negotiating skills and too often effective follow through.  They get distracted by competing needs such as food, shelter, multiple children, careers that are not secure and being young and inexperienced.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now
More than two decades ago I co-founded Parents for Student Success with the thought,  "If I knew then what I know now...."  This applies to many things that occur  for young families. They often think that what they encounter is new and that they are alone in their experiences. Often they are conversing with those who like them are negotiating, without much success the difficult waters we know as public school or even private school education.

Through Parents for Student Success a non profit, that is different than many. We are not a place of employment for anyone, and never have been. We exist only to support parents of school age children who are struggling. This is not a job, as a job it would be much too difficult. We do not apply for large grants because it does not take much money to do effectively what we do. And those in the business of making grants, do not understand our logic. It is more common sense and determination than anything else. Parents of successful children should have a way to pass onto parents who are struggling information that works. Principals do this for other principals, teachers do this for teachers, why then not put model parents with struggling parents?  That is what we do and it works.

We are finding Principals who can see the value in this thinking and partnering with them. We know where to find healthy Elders, they are at the Senior Centers, Teachers know what parents are not pulling their weight in the Teacher/Parent partnership needed to bring a child to excellence.

Becoming an Independent and Habitual Reader Takes Practice
Being an independent reader takes practice, daily practice. And just like in contact sports, the future professional must be taught the right way to hold a bat, shoot a ball or hold a tennis racket. And they need to practice until they know that they will hit the mark more often than miss it.
Brian and Aaliyah  

This is Brian and his mom. He is completing first grade with a good teacher.  He was behind academically when his family re-located to Seattle.  He had to catch up and keep up with his first grade classmates. He had the furthest to go but but that is the best kind of champion one who comes from behind. With his mother agreeing that she wanted her son to catch up and become a reader, we created the strategy a game plan.  I am competitive by nature of my being raised by an athlete father and being a contender in political campaigns. I told her  If we can raise black boys to compete on athletic fields and courts, we just apply the same intent, focus and strategies to make them academic contenders and champions. We put them with the best trainers (teachers) we give them time to practice, we give them opportunity to perform and we applaud them.  Assure that they are in communities that see their academic success as a contact sport of sorts. This is not rocket science we know how to support failure and we know how to support success.

We do not have until 12th Grade to Get this Right
There are many studies and assertions that if a child is not reading by 4th grade their chances of being in the criminal justice system spirals upward. Well if reading is the determinate, we do not have forever to get it right. In Seattle there are approximately 250 African American children well below grade level for reading at the Third Grade. That is not an insurmountable number to bring to grade level. The schools know exactly who they and their parents are. When a child can not read and they have been attending school for four years, we have to approach the parent with a different conversation than what they have been hearing.

Turn the Box Upside Down 
I approach problems and issues with What If, or Have You Considered?  Most people are stuck on solving problems the ways they always have even if the outcomes are unfavorable.  Millions of our public tax monies are paying for things that do not work for the children we need most for them to work for. Because those who administer funds are stuck. I was a Systems Analyst for a large City of Seattle Department. I once was called into a meeting because the the billing stock was not packed correctly and could not be fed into the printer. I was not part of the original conversations which ended with we have to send these hundreds of boxes back to the printer. We will be late sending bills, etc. I told them to turn the box upside down and feed from the bottom. End of problem, they all had salaries much higher than my own.  We need to turn the box upside down and approach this problem differently. When I learned the number of students that causes so much concern, I thought they need to do something different for these children.

What If?
What if each Elder in whatever village they see themselves a part of decided they would help a young African American boy or poor girl become a champion reader, brag about their little reader, be present for them, encouraging, help mom or dad see the value of the practice for making their child a strong reader. Maybe that mom would turn off the television because she knows that we are pulling for her and her son or daughter. Maybe dad will read with their kid before shooting a hoop, or playing a video game because their Elder will be asking what they read.  What if the Elder taught the parents  how to listen to their child read, how to ask the questions about the book, write down the words that are challenging so they can be learned and practiced?

While walking at Seward Park, I saw a father with his two young children. I asked them what school they attended and what book they were reading. The little boy told me his book was "Are You My Mother." This book was a favorite for my own children many years ago, I know this book. He was quite pleased that it was likewise my favorite. I told his parent of our interest in having every child a reader. I believe this family will remember this village elder who took two minutes to communicate so positively.  This boy will know that reading is important to not only his parents and teacher.

What if we believed that our Elders could become a school based Peace Corps. There is something special about older people with a purpose with intent.  I believe that any child placed with me can become one of the top readers in their class, poor, black, brown whatever the excuse is not excuse enough for Parents for Student Success.

If Rotary Can Eradicate Polio in Poor Countries.....
We so appreciate that Rainier Valley Rotary is willing to partner with us on this vision of literacy for every child in SE Seattle. Why is this a big thing? Rotary International stamped out polio in the entire world. Well, if they can do that, they can stamp out illiteracy in SE Seattle.

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