Clovis uses family approach in literacy program

Marlena Hartz

A train of parents entered the Lockwood Elementary classroom. Mothers took seats next to their pre-school sons and daughters in a seamless addition to the brightly painted classroom.

At snacktime, some poured milk for children and popped the day’s treat — strawberries — into their mouths. When storytime rolled around, parents settled into chairs and listened attentively as the teacher read aloud. One daughter curled up in her mother’s lap.

The concept is little more than a decade old: the classroom part of the Clovis Family Literacy Program. It is a push to transform literacy into a family affair, an answer to a pressing need.

Almost half of all adults in New Mexico function at the lowest two literacy levels, according to the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy. Many cannot write a simple letter or understand a bus schedule, a coalition press release said.

“You can educate a child, but if you educate the family you have a better chance of breaking the cycle of illiteracy,” said James Bickley Elementary literacy program teacher Shannon Arredondo.

“We have an open door policy. We encourage parents to spend time in the classroom and participate in whatever we are doing,” Arredondo said. “If the children are making pictures with glitter, the parents who come to the classroom sit down and make a picture with glitter.

“A lot of the parents have had bad experiences in school themselves, so we try to break down the fear of coming to school.”

In the last 30 minutes of the school day, the size of Lockwood literacy teacher Martina Rusk’s class nearly doubles, a tangible sign of her success.

The children in her classroom are attentive, but even more impressive is her rapport with parents. One parent confides that her son talks about school incessantly at home; Rusk touches her gently on the arm and tells her that it’s a good sign. She consults with another parent; her daughter isn’t eating much, Rusk tells her.

The parent-teacher relationship, however, doesn’t end in the classroom. Literacy teachers visit the homes of their students four times during the school year. It gives them a chance to work one-one-one with students and parents, Rusk said.

“That home-school connection is so important. (Students) love to see parents and teachers working together,” Rusk said.

The dual approach can change lives, say Rusk and Arredondo. After enrolling in the program, one parent received her GED and landed her first job, Arredondo said.
The Title 1 funded program produces such results through a variety of approaches, said Clovis School Federal Programs Director David Briseno. It is research driven and constantly evolving, he said. More importantly, it creates a comfortable learning environment for parent and child, he said.

There are hurdles, to bridging the reading barrier, particularly for adults, Arredondo said.
“A lot of the parents (in the program) are functionally literate. They know how to get by, but don’t know how to enrich their lives with reading. We try to get them to the next level,” Arredondo said.

Yet, literacy is still a mysterious skill, the teacher said. Arredondo said studies shows literacy is controlled by a slim quarter of the brain called the motor cortex. Those who have trouble with certain motor skills many times have trouble reading, Arredondo said, and it is difficult to reverse olf habits .

“One of the most important things we can do is realize that literacy is very difficult to achieve. (But) I am really encouraged by this program,” Arredondo said.