By Carolyn Johnson, Vice-Chair of the Literacy Rotarian Action Group
September, Rotary Basic Education and Literacy Month, is an excellent time for Rotary members and clubs to be actively involved in their local communities. Support for basic education and literacy is an area where all members can be proactive in a variety of ways and at different levels, and make a positive impact in their own community. Literacy is a key predictor of an individual’s success and a significant indicator of a community’s general welfare. The ability to read – fluently and with comprehension – is the doorway to success in school and in life. The opportunities to make a difference through education are varied and many: advocacy for early childhood education, inspiring reading skills for struggling students, providing after school academic support or reinforcement, ensuring access to quality education for students with disabilities, supporting adult literacy programs (especially among immigrant communities), or offering opportunities for incarcerated youth or adults to learn to read. Rotary members can play a vital role to strengthen the capacity of communities to support education by becoming informed about needs and promising programs, raising awareness of education issues, and creating partnerships among business and organizations.
The Literacy Rotarian Action Group (LITRAG) is a committed network of Rotarians who provide resources and support for literacy and education projects. During Basic Education and Literacy Month, LITRAG is encouraging each Rotary and Rotaract club to get involved in their local community. To support Rotarians taking action to support literacy, we are hosting a contest for clubs to share their local literacy projects. Awards of US $400 each will be announced in October. For more information, check out the LITRAG website.
Last year, two exemplary projects were selected for the prize. The Rotary Club of St. Catharines Lakeshore in Canada hosts the “School to Home Reading Program.” This program grew from the club merely donating books to primary classrooms to now helping second grade readers boost their reading skills before they fall behind. The club continues to donate leveled books and has grown the program to include a vital, active volunteer program. Adults meet with students weekly, during school hours, for the child to read aloud to the adult. This model of mentoring and active listening supports the child in building reading confidence, fluency and comprehension skills. The program’s success rate is illustrated by improved reading scores for the students. It has grown to include five schools – including one French speaking school. Volunteers include Rotarians, university students and retired teachers. A win-win throughout the entire community!
The second exemplary project was initiated by the Rotary Club of Nassau Sunrise in the Bahamas. This program is a multi-faceted approach to raising awareness of the need to cultivate a literate population in order to support their nation’s growth and development. Rotarians partnered with local schools and organizations to implement awareness and intervention programs. The “Get Fit With Lit” program supports education programs in primary schools by providing books, technology, and mentoring to improve students’ reading achievement. The club’s collaboration with Toastmasters led to an annual public speaking event for Interactors (reinforcing that literacy includes reading, writing and speaking skills). Public events such as Reading in the Mall, encourages parents to develop strategies to support their child’s literacy development. These initiatives are aimed to address literacy development at several stages of a student’s academic development, raise public awareness and build capacity through partnerships with schools and other organizations.
LITRAG and Rotary International have recently formed a partnership with Save the Children to help Rotary members raise awareness and advocate in our local communities for early childhood literacy programs. The new Together, We Read initiative connects Rotary clubs with Save the Children programs to help close the academic achievement gap that exists for many young children. Through research based early learning initiatives, our goal is to measurably improve education outcomes for young children living in poverty. Strategies include improving access to children’s books, programs for parents to help them support their young child’s early literacy foundational skills, and advocacy for quality early childhood programs. For ideas and resources of how your club might get involved, visit the savethechildren.org/rotary.
The need for quality literacy and education programs affects every community. If you have an education/literacy program that you would like to promote, LITRAG can help you! LITRAG members can offer assistance to Rotarians interested in developing grants and projects. And, of course, we are always looking to get more Rotarians and Rotaractors involved in our network to support quality basic education and literacy programs! Contact us for more information.