Even though we raise money for literacy with every sale, there’s no substitute for experiencing a literacy initiative first hand. That’s why twice a year BWB sends a randomly selected group of employees far from our headquarters to work with our non-profit partners “in the field.”This past summer, employees traveled to Africa with Books for Africa and Invisible Children – you can read about their experiences here.
Right now, a different group of employees is focusing on domestic literacy with a trip to the West Coast organized by the National Center for Family Literacy. We even had the opportunity to bring two librarians from our library partners with us this time. The NCFL set-up some excellent work for us to do, and the first hand accounts are just starting to come in.
Here’s one from our CFO, Paul Sansone:
Monday we hit it early at a 7AM meeting with NCFL previewing the week, then broke up into our 4 teams and headed out to Oakland Public Elementary schools (Garfield, Manzanita, Greenleaf, and Lazear). My team is at Garfield Elementary and we’ve been working with about 15 parents (all Moms) of students at the school, aiding in teaching them English. We are in a doublewide trailer on the school grounds.
The students are originally from all over the world: Vietnam, El Salvador, Mexico, Bhutan, and have a wide range of English proficiency. Monday afternoon’s orientation session was held at a local high school where the Oakland Adult education offices are co-located. We learned the schools we were sent to have the lowest literacy rates in the district.
We also learned tactics to better educate – use gestures, pictures, speak clearly, do not use slang and avoid talking like you would to an adolescent – these are proud adults who need a hand. Our NCFL hosts and the Oakland teachers we’ve been with have been wonderful.
It’s Important Stuff
We learned that when the parents are learning English this helps make a much more effective educational experience for their children, so helping these Moms is, in essence, going to help the kids become more literate. Also, the social structure in the homes are often turned upside down as the 1st graders often know more English than the parents do.
We spent much of the day reading kids books together, getting to know family members through speaking and writing exercises. I read Good Night, Gorilla as I have to my kids but it meant so much more reading with an adult mother from Vietnam with 2 kids. Brad Weirich’s Greenleaf team is working on a play for the adults (The Grouchy Little Ladybug) to perform to their children.
We also take breaks with some exercise to music which is a highlight for others and a source of embarrassment for me, as I’m old and have no rhythm. We also get to go into the classrooms with the parents of their kids where for 45 minutes a day, they learn together (PACT time – Parents and Children Together). I don’t know anything about their compensation, but whatever these elementary teachers are receiving, it is not enough for what they are doing.
Our Librarian guests are also having a great time, and before this trip is over we should have some great stories to tell.
Chief Financial Officer