The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 2 | Page 22

Special Selection



Ann Powell-Brown



In St. Louis, Community Women Against Hardship operates as an umbrella social service agency for inner-city families. It assists parents with clothing needs, paying utility bills, providing financial assistance for transportation, job preparation training, parenting skills, replacement furniture, child and adult tutoring, temporary housing, and personal counseling. Operating in a large open building with space available for individual and group literacy activities, CWAH Director Gloria Taylor eagerly agreed to partner with the University, as she had with MSLABSE, to continue to provide space for the Literacy is a Family Affair program. CWAH contribution to the project also included disseminating the project invitation to families – parents and children - to come to literacy sessions. Invitations, posters, and flyers were designed by the COE. CWAH agreed to also provide snacks for each evening the sessions were held. Snacks usually included pizza, chips, and a drink.

A Typical Session

Sessions of Literacy is a Family Affair tend to be held between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays in coordination with reading block courses taught at the University. Snacks are served, provided at the expense of Community Women Against Hardship. Professors and preservice teachers travel to CWAH, usually in a university van. The group transports materials for the tutoring and reading sessions – children’s literature books for distribution to children, consumable literacy activities, writing instruments, and resource materials for parents. Books and materials are for a span of reading levels and grades to meet the needs of children who might be in attendance.

Children’s literature for read-alouds, shared reading, and book giveaways are of a variety of reading levels and of a variety of genres to appeal to the interest of children of varying ages and ability levels. Most children who regularly attend the project sessions are elementary level, with a small number of early childhood age. Few middle and secondary children have participated in the project.

As children and their parents arrive, preservice teachers greet them and loosely group them by ages, interests, and sometimes gender for tutoring and reading. Small groups, usually one University student and four to five neighborhood children, are situated throughout the available space. Preservice teachers and the children work with literature books and poetry, print materials and activity packets. Professors guide children to appropriate small groups. Additionally, professors monitor the tutoring and are available to guide and assist preservice teachers.

Community partners also assist with tutoring. African American authors who attend a session conduct read-alouds with the books they have written. Volunteers who read with children are expected to first possess training in literacy instruction to that the pedagogical techniques applied with children and discussed with parents are grounded in a sound knowledge of literacy research. Books chosen are those with which the children can relate as they ‘see themselves’ in the books. Lists of these books are made available for the parents who may purchase them for their home libraries. Children’s literature books authored by African Americans and other minorities are featured on book lists shared with parents and the CWAH director.

Parent sessions are conducted concurrently with the reading sessions for their children. Professors and community volunteers, particularly retired school administrators and the Black authors, conduct discussions with parents, usually in one group. If a parent has a concern or question and requests privacy, professors respond to meet their needs. Parents are provided information on a variety of relevant topics, some which they had been identified in advance via a questionnaire.

Topics discussed with parents have included understanding special education programs, laws, and service models; how to build a home library; age and developmentally appropriate practices and resources for parents; establishing a home environment conducive to academic growth; effective participation in parent-teacher conferences; advocacy strategies; availability of community resources for families; understanding standard-based instruction; political hierarchies and public education; understanding educational platforms of politicians; discipline strategies; family