School-based Family Literacy Discussion Transcript - 2002

School-based Family Literacy Discussion Transcript

School-based Family Literacy
Discussion with Laura Bercovitz, Brenda Logan, and Shani Yero

Full Transcript of the Discussion

A. Moderator's introduction of the guests and the guest discussion

Starting on January 7th and running through January 11th, the listserv discussion will explore how programs can start-up or expand to serve families with school-age children. Your questions will be posted and you will hear possible ways to address your particular needs during the week. Our special guests are Laura Bercovitz, Brenda Logan, and Shani Yero. Their short bios are below. They are no strangers to this list, as they have been subscribers themselves for a long time. They are also no strangers to family literacy in the elementary schools and with school-age children.

If you know of anyone else who may be interested in this particular discussion, they may join by going to and clicking on the left-hand icon that says "subscribe." They just need to fill in their e-mail address and check the box that says "family."

Laura Bercovitz is the manager for the Adult Learning Resource Center and has been working in family literacy since 1988. Currently through the Illinois Statewide Family Literacy Initiative she is coordinating the development of performance indicators, their related assessment measures and a data collection system. In addition to the Initiative's work, she conducts professional development in areas such as parent-child activities, participatory teaching techniques, outcome-based program models, and parental involvement. In 1996 Laura coordinated the development and implementation of the Illinois Family Education Institute, a multiple-agency staff development event for staff working in programs which have family-focused services and activities. In 1998 Laura received a Winston Churchill Fellowship and traveled to the UK for visitations with school authorities in both Birmingham and London. Materials she has written include: Home English Literacy for Parents, An ESL Family Literacy Curriculum, Parents as Educational Partners: A Curriculum for Language Minority Parents and Illinois State Library Family StoryKits.

Brenda Logan is the Director of School Reform Initiatives for the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, Kentucky. She has been involved in program development of a family literacy initiative which focuses on at-risk school-age children (5-12) and their parents. Prior to coming to NCFL, Brenda Logan was principal at Hazelwood Elementary School from 1990 to 1999. During her tenure as principal, she led the school to develop a School-Wide Title I Program that received recognition from the U.S. Department of Education as an innovative way to address the academic needs of children. This plan also included the development of comprehensive family services for parents and their pre-school children and served over 250 parents and over 400 preschool children during her nine years tenure. Hazelwood's family literacy program became a national demonstration site, attracting hundreds of visitors from across the United States and outside the United States, including Hillary Clinton and Dr. Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motor Corporation.

J.L. "Shani" Yero is a program specialist for Toyota Families in Schools Program at NCFL. She has worked with family involvement in elementary schools for more than 20 years. Prior to joining the National Center for Family Literacy team she served as a classroom teacher, an assistant principal, reading specialist, professional development specialist and in her last position she served as an administrator supervising Title I parent involvement and began the development and implementation of family literacy services for Title I schools in the Houston Independent School District. She is a dedicated and passionate educator working to ensure the success of all students, children parents and teachers!

Nancy Sledd, NIFL-Family list moderator
Senior Training Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy

[Note: In this summary of our Guest Question and Answer Session, our Guests' words will be in italics.]

Comment by one of the guests.

A1. It is certainly my pleasure to be a participant in this week's discussion of family literacy and focus on the "school-age" model that directly impacts children ages 5-12 and their parents. It is a particularly exciting time because of the recent action of Congress in passing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Family literacy is a very prominent part of this reauthorization and the knowledge the National Center for Family Literacy has gained over the past three years in model development of family literacy in 45 Title I elementary schools located in 15 school districts across the country should prove to be very valuable information to share with other school districts.

Brenda W. Logan
Director of School Reform Initiatives
National Center for Family Literacy

B. How would you describe your program serving school-aged children?

From Laura Bercovitz, Shani Yero, and Brenda Logan (Questions to start this week's discussion are at the end of this introduction.)

Although family literacy programs (Even Start included) could always serve school-age children, the majority of family literacy programs nationwide provide services for families with children birth to five years old. Unless there are younger siblings, many programs cease to serve families when the children enter kindergarten with the numbers even more bleak for those entering first to third grader.

However, recent federal legislation has demonstrated that the US Department of Education sees the need for Even Start programs to provide comprehensive services for families with school-age children. While it is recognized that Even Start is not the only source for family literacy, it carries a tremendous amount of influence in the field.

The 1998 amended Even Start legislation in the Reading Excellence Act (REA) has states developing a set of performance indicators for participating families. The three child indicators that states were mandated to address focused on reading readiness and reading on grade level, school attendance and grade promotion. All three indicating the government's assumption that Even Start programs were serving school-age children through the four service components.

Title I has always had a very strong emphasis on parent involvement. Even Start, has always been a part of Title I and since it was reauthorized in 2000, with the passage of the Literacy Involves Families Together (LIFT) Act, it can serve students beyond age 8 if Title I funds are used to provide the services. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige, has been a supporter of family literacy and Director of Compensatory Education, Dr. Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. has echoed that support. He sent out a letter to all state Title I directors during the summer of 2001 stating, "Family Literacy programs help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and low literacy in the nation and provide another method for helping children, especially our most-in-need children, achieve high standards." This along with the strong reference to family literacy in the new Reauthorization of ESEA (to be passed in Jan. 2002) clearly opens the door for more emphasis on family literacy services for school age children, and their parents. Whether services are provided after school as the siblings of Even Start pre-school participants, in 21st Century programs, Title I extended day programs or during the day as fully operational family literacy services within an elementary school, the four activities outlined in the federal definition can and must be provided to all of "our most-in-need children", preschool and in school alike. This can be done. It is being done. There may be modifications to meet the needs of the age group served but the concepts and principals of all components of comprehensive family literacy services remain the same. The goal remains the same: improved literacy development for all members of the family.

Starting on January 7th and running through January 11th, the listserv discussion will explore how programs can start-up or expand to serve families with school-age children. Your questions will be posted and answered and as the week progresses possible solutions to the problems posed during the week will be shared.

Here are a few questions to get the dialogue started.

  1. If your program is not currently serving school-aged* children and their parents, why was this decision made? What barriers did your program encounter or did you just decide not to try?
  2. If your program is currently comprehensively** serving school-aged children and their parents, what challenges have you encountered and with whom?
  3. In what venue do you serve school aged children and their parents? (E.g., during the school day, after school program, in the evenings, on weekends)
  4. Are the school-aged children siblings of younger children your program is serving or have you targeted school-aged children to work with?
  5. How have the four components of comprehensive family literacy services been modified to meet the needs of your school-aged children?
  1. * For this discussion, please be specific when talking about the school-aged children you serve. Identify the grade levels you mean. For example, K only or K-5.
  1. ** Comprehensively means providing all four service components (adult education, child education, parenting education and PACT)

Subscribers' Responses.

B1. I welcome this discussion, as it is an issue for our program, on a couple of different fronts.

>1. If your program is not currently serving school-aged* children and their parents, why was this decision made? What barriers did your program encounter or did you just decide not to try?

Well, we don't exactly *don't* serve school-age children (K-12). In fact, we home visit families twice a month, and the kids in those families get services often there, primarily in the areas of parent education, assisting parents in volunteering in the child's classroom, helping with homework, etc. But it doesn't make sense to us to provide classroom instruction to those kids, since they are getting that in the public schools.

I think this is a more complicated question, though. It has a lot to do with the divide in this country between pre-K and K-12 worlds. We had a Transition conference in Portland last spring, and it was an eye-opener to me. My field is adult ed, not ECE, so I didn't realize the extent of that divide. We even use different language to describe what we do, and what kids are doing. In Preschools we talk about Areas of Child Development (social/emotional, fine and large motor, cognitive, etc.). But K-12 focuses on content areas (Math, Reading, etc.). To use some broad generalizations, K-12 folks look down on preschool folks as glorified babysitters. Preschool teachers see K-12 people as too structured and demanding, inflexible and snooty.

We've tried to find ways to integrate school-age children into our program (which has 0-3 and 3-5 y/o classrooms as well as an adult ed classroom), and have found home visits to be our best bet. We also do occasional parent night/family night parties so that fathers and siblings can come to the school and participate in activities together.

Last spring we applied to the local school district for funding to replace at least some of the Even Start grant that was ending. The Title I coordinator was enthusiastic and encouraging, even more or less promising us the money. As spring went on, the amount of money promised was reduced, and finally it was cut to nothing altogether. It seems the Superintendent and the principals in the district felt that Pre-K was a luxury and there were more important things to address in a time of budget cuts. I'm not sure how we could infiltrate the district to change their minds about the importance of Pre-K family literacy to school readiness and parent involvement.

So, we would like to serve school-age children more, but it seems more difficult than we had thought.

I'd be very interested in hearing other perspectives on this issue.

Sylvan Rainwater
Adult Education Teacher and Family Literacy Program Manager
Clackamas County Children's Commission, Oregon City, OR USA

B2. Our Canton, Ohio Even Start program is located inside 2 elementary schools and we serve children in K - 5. This year we redesigned the program to have what we call a children's enrichment teacher for each school paid by Even Start funds. These teachers work with the classroom teachers of Even Start students to enrich services for Even Start children. Sometimes they work with students before or after school or in pull out, but usually they go right into the classrooms and work along side the classroom teachers. They also take the Even Start parents to visit their children's classrooms and have a brief and debrief before and after the visit. We do PACT in our Even Start classroom after school 2 days a week. The children join their parents to work on our computers, help each other with homework, or play learning games. When we do our team planning every classroom teacher that has an Even Start child can not plan with us, but the children's enrichment teachers do and since they are in constant contact with the classroom teachers and in and out of the classrooms daily they help integrate the components by suggesting parenting topics and appropriate learning activities for PACT based on what is happening in the children's classrooms. This works well for us.

Jane Meyer
Canton, Ohio

B3. Greetings. I am new to this discussion group, but I have found the questions extremely helpful and thought provoking. In addition, given my position as Even Start Director, Title I Director, and Director of Professional Development for our schools, this discussion feels to be right out of our staff meetings.

To respond in brief....

Our Even Start Program serves children 0-3 on-site in an infant/toddler center. It is in this space that PACT, and parenting and conferencing occurs. It is a natural site for learning and literacy, as well as to glean from the experiences of parents of older children.

Our Community Partnership for Children serves children 3-5 both in-school and throughout the community. We have modeled Even Start components to school-based and off-site programs as a vehicle for increasing home-strategies for successful child rearing, increasing home-school relationships and communication, and empowering adults and families.

The Title I Program has for the past ten years provided outreach services WITH families. I work in a small school district (3700 kids) with 33 languages and over 80 countries of origin of our families. This has happily necessitated both learning and teaching with families, in and out-of-school. We hire staff to provide mechanisms for understanding public education, understanding the expectations of adult roles in children's learning, and helping families feel welcomed and comfortable with our staff.

As a staff we understand that our families work several jobs, and at a variety of hours, so we are the group that must be flexible. Our meetings occur in-school during and after school, at neighborhood/community sites, and at times that are most convenient for our families. We keep a wide variety of education and literacy materials 'in-stock' to meet the needs of families as they arrive and settle in Amherst. We offer after-school homework and social times for children in a number of languages, and extend the day to help families. In addition, we offer support on accessing human services as transportation and language are often barriers. The list goes on with what we do as school personnel, as well as what we learn from the community, and how we are involved with a number of human service providers.

The program grew two years ago to also include Middle School children. The after school program (Savuka) offers academic support and homework support (mandatory) as a vehicle to participate in a wide number of social activities ranging from sports to technology to mountain biking to hiking to crafts to community service, etc, etc, etc, Started as a strategy to help kids keep busy and occupied after-school, we now have a waiting list to get in. Parent involvement and participation is both encouraged and required.

I hope this helps others. Thanks for the opportunity.

From: Paul Burnim

B4. I've been following this discussion with interest. I'm not a certified primary or secondary teacher, but have taught at the university level, and am certified in Adult Basic Skills education and ESL. My beginning Family Literacy work was with Literacy Volunteers programs at the city library in conjunction with children's programming, and with various human services agencies. These were largely literacy- and reading readiness-based, and included such "generic" activities, in addition to wordless picture book activities mentioned above (we liked "The Snowman" a lot), book making, number, vocabulary and picture books, and low-text illustrated books. We introduced previewing books, reading to/with children strategies, generating stories from doodles transformed into pictures, and everyday activities reading and writing modeling in the home.

I'm now involved in several programs which incorporate technology Into basic skills education, employability strategies; though only one is explicitly funded as a Family Literacy program under WIA, all programs have incorporated parent issues and suggested parent/child activities at home and in the classroom. In our school-based program we have relatively little contact with teachers, since participants come from many city schools, but we do have the full cooperation of the principal and the Family Resource Center. We'd love to have suggestions as to how to better link with teachers and involve what parents and children have learned in PACT in classroom activities.

We have continued with many of the activities listed above, but realized that with school-aged programs, the typical "Family Literacy" curricula were inadequate, and bringing technology into the mix risked taking the focus away from children's school achievement and parent literacy modeling. Just empowering parents with technology instruction so they can teach their children computer skills (rather than vice versa) is extremely empowering, and reinforces the model of parent as teacher. Even working with games provides computer comfort as well as parent/child problem solving, and we see the parents themselves developing, with guidance, the prepare/act/review strategy. Project learning, such as a wall display or book which might incorporate web searches, downloading clip art or images, computer word graphics and layout, word processing et. al. have been particularly successful. Themes or topics are largely parent-generated and flow naturally from issues that arise in parent instruction, in PACT discussions ( Vehicle for Education, Nurturing, and Training), and in life crisis situations.

This is a long enough post. Thanks for listening.

Bonnie Odiorne, Ph.D.
WisdomWays, Program Facilitation
Computers 4 Kids, Waterbury, CT

B5. Shani, As a new volunteer for literacy and ESL training and supporter of Success by 6, I will admit that I saw no further than working with a few neighborhood groups to help pre-school children and their parents. You write convincingly about the need to include the schools in educational activities and to broaden the outlook to include student achievement in school as the eventual goal.

I am a retired nurse, not an educator. Promotoras have been successful in the health field. I wonder if the same model wouldn't be useful in education (home visits by volunteers from the community and close working relationships with professionals in the field).

In my unincorporated community, husbands prefer wives to not get involved in community activities and the wives, with their large numbers of children, have no transportation. They have accepted the daily "school" that my neighbor (a former elementary teacher) and I have during the summers in our neighborhood, although we are both Anglo and not fluent in Spanish. The older children take pride in translating as necessary.

These parents very well may not want to model Anglo school employees. It's hard for them to get past racial problems into truly cooperating with a "foreign" institution which has not supported them in the past. Most don't understand English.

There is a large group of retirees in this area (low rent and lots of sunshine) who would be happy to help. Most of the time I find I can be more effective by working together with someone born in Mexico.

It's helpful to get away from the confining effect of "overfocus" on social problems to thinking about solutions within a broader context. Thanks for the information and inspiration. The post was not too long!

Marilyn Griggs

B6. Guest response to this last message:

Thanks Marilyn,

The framework of comprehensive family literacy services are flexible enough to address the specific needs of parents in any school community. Many of our TFS schools serve English as a Second language parents. The idea of PACT Time is not to mimic the cultural representation of the instructor but to provide a lab like setting so that parents will better understand how to foster literacy development in any language. The wonderful thing about family literacy is that it can be tailored to address diverse populations in a wide range of school settings, urban, rural small, large...

The concept of making home visits is a GREAT idea that some have undertaken. Using Promotoras (home visits by volunteers from the community and close working relationships with professionals in the field) may be very useful in increasing recruitment and ensuring retention. It may also be helpful in providing transfer-to-home PACT Time activities.

Literacy volunteers are always welcome in family literacy programs!

Thanks again!

J.L."Shani" Yero, Program Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy

C. How do we best inform K-6 teachers about family literacy?

[Note: The following responses concern Meta's first question below. See Question G below regarding Meta's second question.]

Thank you Brenda, Laura and Shani for guest-hosting on this list. We honor and respect your expertise on the subject of family literacy in elementary grades.

I am working with two programs who are incorporating family literacy into their K-3 elementary grades. We have lots of questions for you, but in the interest of others who have needs, I will post only a double-couple at this time.

(1) First of all, what are your suggestions for informing the teachers K-6 about the concepts of family literacy and how they can focus some of their attention on those concepts?

(2) And then, what are your suggestions for PACT Time in the K-6 classroom and how can family literacy program staff influence that content, or should they?

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Meta Potts Glendale, Arizona

Guests' Responses.

C1. 1. Informing Teachers
Helping teachers see how family literacy assists them reaching their prime objective, "student achievement" is paramount. Teachers know, understand the importance of parents being involved. Sharing with them the fact that family literacy provides an organized structure to get meaningful involvement that supports classroom instruction with little added "paperwork" and effort on their part piques their interest.

What teacher would not like "supplemental assistance" for a child who needs extra support? What better support for that child than a parent who has been adequately prepared to go into the classroom to support literacy development? What better role model?

Schools we are working with that implement Toyota Families in Schools (TFS) have provided information to the faculty and staff through formal presentations in faculty meetings. Many sites have the Adult Educator, Parent Liaison or Family Literacy teacher give regular updates during faculty meetings. They are integral members of the school community. (I should preface all of this by saying the principal has bought into the idea, and the school site based decision making committee has agreed to implement family literacy services.) It is crucial to inform the whole school faculty and staff (e.g. librarians, music/PE teachers, cafeteria/office staff ..., everyone who works in the school) of the benefits to children, parents and the entire school that family literacy brings.

Now I have brought up two issues I want to address specifically;
a. "children who need extra support" - Many times these children have parents who need "extra support". (That is why family literacy is so needed in elementary schools and why recruitment is a critical aspect.)
b. "adequately prepared parents" - This refers to those parents who have been exposed to instructional strategies, language and other aspects of regular school culture during AE instruction (This calls for regular communication between the CE/AE teachers and Parent Liaison); who have discussed topics such as school protocol, school/grade level expectations during Parent Time. In some of our TFS schools, parents attend an "orientation period before participating in the PACT Time component. (This highlights the importance of integration of all four components of comprehensive services.)


J.L."Shani" Yero, Program Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy

C2. Thanks for your interest Meta. While family literacy is considered a complex program to develop and implement, I think having it serve school-aged children multiplies the potential difficulties. Two of these difficulties you posted questions about.

1) Informing teachers about family literacy:
My advise is to start with what the teachers know and what they are interested in. Approach them from their world. For the most part teachers are interested in having their students succeed in their studies. Parents can play an important role in helping their children do well in school.

(A) If you have any hard statistics on children's learning gains resulting from participating in a family literacy program use them. If you can combine these numbers with case studies, even better. Demonstrate how much impact a family-based program had on the child's learning.

(B) Another idea is to demonstrate that the four service components can easily be folded into a comprehensive approach to family, school and community involvement. Joyce Epstein's Six Type Framework for Family, School and Community Involvement aligns itself very nicely to family literacy programming. The framework outlines six types of school, family and community partnerships (parenting, communication, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making and community collaborations). By introducing family literacy framed within this context, you are allowing teachers to connect family literacy with what they already know. I've used this and the results have been very good. It has opened the door for more in-depth discussions about family literacy and the adult, child and family learning opportunities. For those interested: Joyce Epstein, Johns Hopkins University: By no means do I equate family literacy with parental involvement, however when reaching out to schools, it should be recognized that it is an outcome they are very interested in.

One more suggestion: Keep your message simple and the presentation short. There is always time to continue the discussion after the interest is peaked.

2) PACT and the Classroom:
I'm not sure I understood the second question so I'll need some clarification. Was it: (A) How can PACT activities reflect what is happening in the child's classroom? or (B) How can PACT impact on what is being taught/learned in the child's classroom? Let me know which was the question.

Hopefully others can join in and share other ideas.

Laura Bercovitz
Adult Learning Resource Center
Des Plaines, IL

Other Comments.

C3. Dear Laura--Approaching teachers from their world--is an essential ingredient for getting teachers excited and enthusiastic about family literacy. One of our programs in Massachusetts begins the year by asking elementary teachers to think about their classroom and the kinds of things they would want parents to understand and be involved in to support their children's learning. This questioning has evolved into a school-wide effort to link families to community resources and to locate books in the local library to support curriculum themes. As teachers begin to see that family literacy specialists are interested in what they (meaning teachers)do and what they want --more formal concepts about family literacy are introduced.

One thing I would like to add to the discussion is the notion that many parents may need to broaden their understanding of the school culture before they can get involved--this is particularly true of ESOL families. In keeping with this notion, one family literacy program I have observed in Boston invests much energy on acquainting ESOL families with vocabulary related to children's education and on talking to their children about school homework. For example, parents are encouraged to walk around their children's classrooms and notice what is on the walls and to observe t he ground rules of the classrooms. A follow-up adult literacy assignment for parents might be to find one word that they don't know; put the word on an index card or find one example of what the teacher is teaching or what their children are learning. From this perspective, the elementary classroom is fertile ground for teaching key adult literacy skills and for helping parents understand the school culture.

Linda Warren
Early Childhood Associates/JumpStart Family Literacy

Guest response.

C4. Good points Linda. In the 90's (that sounds so long ago) through a Title VII grant we developed a content-based ESOL curriculum for parents. The two goals were 1) provide ESOL parents with school-related vocabulary and content - have them understand what the US school system's expectations were regarding the parents' roles and 2) increase parental involvement - in whatever capacity the parents wanted to take. We relied on providing ESOL content-based lessons and then used problem-posing when parents indicated issues they faced or new experiences they wanted to have.

The curriculum provided a nice link between parenting education and adult ESL education.

Laurie Bercovitz

D. How do we best identify needs of teachers and/or parents for K-6 family literacy?

> One of our programs in Massachusetts begins the year by asking elementary teachers to think about their classroom and the kinds of things they would want parents to understand and be involved in to support their children's learning. This questioning has evolved into a school-wide effort to link families to community resources and to locate books in the local library to support curriculum themes. As teachers begin to see that family literacy specialists are interested in what they (meaning teachers)do and what they want --more formal concepts about family literacy are introduced.

What a great needs assessment! Anybody else have any specific ways to gauge faculty needs, as well as family needs, in the area of literacy for an Even Start grant?

Thank you for such great discussions!

Nancy Van Leuven

Guest's response.

D1. We've conducted separate focus groups with teachers, parents and students (depending on the children's ages) to get the various points of view regarding parental involvement in school and their role in supporting/monitoring their children's learning. What has always emerged is the frustration on all sides of this issues and in some cases real anger focused on one or more of the "other" parties. What's great about a family literacy program is that is gives voices to everyone and communication begins to flow. The discovery that there "are no bad guys out there" is wonderful to view both from the parents side and the school staff side.

Focus groups can be very effective in that they allow dialogue to build upon each other -- rather like listserv conversations. However, it's important the confidentiality be kept and that the participants understand that what is said in the session is not repeated. We also did not allow any school administrators into any of the sessions. If working with ESOL parents it's essential that the first language be used. That may mean more than one group is held. Focus groups often aren't used because of the time they require, but if it can be done the information gathered is wonderful. There are books written on designing and conducting focus groups.

Laurie Bercovitz

E. How do we deal with teachers' negative attitudes towards parents with limited literacy?

Since we are discussing working with the public schools, let me ask a question. First some background: I am the coordinator of a new Even Start program. We are funded through a non profit, the Literacy Council of Alaska, which specializes in one-on-one tutoring for adults in need of literacy services, whether it is basic skills, GED, or ESL. The organization also works with school-aged children and runs a computer lab.

Our adult programs coordinator has mentioned to me that some of her clients have run into seriously negative attitudes in the schools. Basically once a teacher realizes this parent cannot read or has extremely low skills, they are ignored or treated very badly. This, of course, is a terrible situation for both the parent and the child. This is most prevalent with parents in need of basic skills rather than ESL.

So my question is (or I guess my questions ARE): Has anyone else run into this experience? If so, what are or have you done to combat these kinds of attitudes?

I am a certified teacher myself, as are my husband and both my parents. While none of us would react to a parent in this way, I can think of many teachers I've known who would.

Sorry if this is a little off-topic, but it is the school issue weighing most heavily on me these days.

Colleen Angaiak
Even Start Coordinator
Literacy Council of Alaska
Fairbanks, AK

Guests' Responses.

E1. I couldn't agree more Colleen!

When we discuss family literacy in the elementary school, teacher attitudes are very important. Helping teachers to become sensitive to parent learners is one of the first steps to ensuring the success of family literacy in elementary schools. Colleague and friend, Becky King refers to a teachers making a "parent-digm" shift - looking at parents as learners, experts and partners as critical to family literacy success in schools.

It has been my experience in school systems across this country that teachers have not been afforded the training and development of skills needed to work with parents. Many teacher preparation programs address parents in the "methods block" or through multicultural classes amidst the other content covered. The USDE publication, New Skills for New Schools: Preparing Teachers in Family Involvement, page 1, says, "School efforts to promote family involvement in children's education will succeed only if teachers are adequately prepared to support these efforts. Teachers - from pre-kindergarten to secondary school - need skills to create the positive family partnerships that result in student success and improved schools."

I believe more ongoing training (pre-service and in-service) to help teachers suspend their judgments of parents (whatever their socio-economic-status, educational or cultural background may be) and develop good communication and partnering skills will be an asset to all. As school districts plan their yearly professional development calendar, suggestions for a series of workshops on teacher attitudes toward family involvement may be a way to get schools to begin thinking about family literacy.

In addition to the USDE publication sited earlier produced by the Harvard Family Research Project, Diana Hiatt-Michael has written a paper, Preparing Teachers to Work With Parents, presenting findings from a survey of teacher education programs in California reporting on parent involvement issues and higher education coursework.

J.L."Shani" Yero, Program Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

E2. If I can add on to the conversation:

In our school-based programs we had ongoing in-services for teachers regarding parent involvement and working with parents. In the beginning it allowed for a forum where frustrations and many times anger was expressed. Parent panels can be brought in to address issues teachers have raised. At one location the adult ESL instructors used the in-service time to show what the parents were learning. Teachers began understanding why they didn't talk to parents on the phone or why they didn't answer a note (even a simple one) that had been sent home. Teachers were invited to attend program activities and report back to their peers.

When working in a school-based program it's good to build support for your school staff, because as Shani pointed out, they haven't had any training in working with parents who may know how to navigate the school system. Ongoing in-service for teachers in working their parents in the family literacy program almost becomes essential. You have to look at is as having two sets of "customers": the parents and the teachers. Both need time to learn.

Laura Bercovitz


E3. From: Mary Hendrick

I think it is very difficult for teachers to approach parents with low literacy skills because they don't want the potential conflict. I suggest to school teachers that they tell parents about our family literacy program and that it can help their children in school. Then we assess parents during orientation. Adult literacy class participation is mandatory in our program. It's a little indirect, but it works. It also sounds like your school's could use learner sensitivity training.

E4. Colleen,

Please don't think that your schools are the only ones in which teachers find it difficult to understand the needs of low-literacy adults. The attitudes you describe and the kinds of behavior of teachers and other staff members towards these parents is not uncommon. That reality was the basis for my questions about introducing family literacy programs in the schools and about PACT Time. There have been many excellent responses from the moderators and practitioners which emphasize the need for education of the educators.

This is not to place blame; I am a strong teacher advocate (having been one myself for many years), but I know (since I also taught at the university level) that teacher education is lacking in the preparation needed to work with parents who struggle with literacy issues. I have to admit that I once thought that parents who didn't come to Open House just didn't care. I never realized in my early years of teaching that some of the parents of my students couldn't read the notes I sent home. Shame on me, but thank goodness I had the opportunity to learn that lesson.

So, it seems very necessary that the family literacy staff work in full partnership with teachers in elementary grades to enhance their understanding of our participants. The points made about custodians and cafeteria staff are also worth remembering. These staff members can encourage or discourage adult participation in family literacy programs, either by their actions or their words. They must be included in staff development efforts that are focused on preparation for parent-as-learner entry into the schools.

Meta Potts
Glendale, Arizona

E5. From: Jane Meyer

Meta Potts wrote:

I know (since I also taught at the university level) that teacher education is lacking in the preparation needed to work with parents who struggle with literacy issues.

I also had no idea when I began teaching that there are significant numbers of adults who struggle with reading. So now I make contact with our local colleges and university and speak to their classes and future teacher organizations about this issue. We have also opened the doors of our adult literacy program for education majors to do field work. We get free volunteers and they learn first hand about issues that effect parents.

Jane Meyer, Canton, Ohio


I feel that teachers just need to be made aware, be reminded of who parents are. They (teachers) work with children and other teachers every day. They don't realize... The needs of parents are not paramount in their minds. The fact that the parents who send their children to school may be the same adults who (whether working or not) who dropped out of school, who barely received their GED, who may be Learning Disabled (LD), just doesn't "hit teachers where they live". These same adults (parents) may have the same academic needs of the children they send to elementary school. However, many of these parents, if given a chance, an opportunity to improve, if given a way to get out of a dead end job,... If given a way to help their child do better than they did in school...If given a second chance, they (these parents) with help would, can and are doing it!

Cafeteria/Custodians - I know of some schools where the cafeteria workers are parent participants of comprehensive family literacy services in the school in which they work! Thanks again Meta,


E7. From: Trudy Freer-Alvarez

Exactly, Shani! The issue is that we are a community of learners. When we become totally involved as a campus in the needs of all of our constituents we will be addressing student achievement. Establishing communication with the parents and discovering exactly how they can and would like to be involved in programs will begin the empowerment process. Great book by Concha Delgado-Gaitan called Con Respeto. It describes moving from the bake sales to literacy programs in a school in California.

F. Who is the most effective contact in a school? Who should you build your relationship with in order to promote and then provide the support needed in running a school-based family literacy program?

From: Laura Bercovitz

I think Sylvan brings up some very serious issues facing many who are trying to get their foot in the door of a school. It's something that would be interesting to get other's opinions and stories about.

Who is the most effective contact in a school? Who should you build your relationship with in order to promote and then provide the support needed in running a school-based family literacy program?

In my experience, given the hierarchy of schools, principals hold many of the cards. I've been in situations when the teachers didn't want to participate or didn't want their room used at night, but the principal supported the program and it happened. I've also shared the same experiences as Sylvan. However, oftentimes our contacts are in the coordinator, lead teacher or teacher positions. How and when do we start trying to contact and win over administrators.

Let's share some stories!

Guests' Responses.

F1. Response from Brenda Logan
Director of School Reform Initiatives
National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL)

I would like to attempt to answer several topics/questions that have been raised about implementation of family literacy services in the elementary school setting. I speak from experiences as an elementary classroom teacher, an elementary school principal whose school provided family literacy services for the community and one who has worked with 45 family literacy programs in Title I elementary schools across the country in my work with NCFL.

An article I wrote for the November 1999 Momentum can be found on the NCFL website What was written in that article remains true today but we have evidence from research collected from those 45 school programs that family literacy is making a difference in elementary schools. It is not an easy process. It does take time to orchestrate. But family literacy services connect children, parents and schools in a different kind of way.

We began implementation of family literacy in these schools realizing many of the concerns posted today and we addressed these issues as we provided professional development for these school districts. It is a fact that you do have to have "district" support for the initiative. Your principal does have to be a champion for family literacy. Your school staff does have to be on board and your elementary classroom teachers do have to understand the very positive results that can result for them . Your parent population has to understand how this initiative can positively affect them. All this takes planning on the front end to yield the kinds of results that you are seeking.

An article which will appear in the January NCFL publication Momentum and written by a principal at one of our 45 school sites states the following:

The task of implementing family literacy services in our school seemed very arduous. We knew as a school that we would have to change our thinking about the way parents would be involved. We understood the four components and felt that Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time would be the greatest challenge but would also be the catalyst to make the other components fall into place. We all agreed on the following guidelines upfront:

  • PACT Time will be the central focus of the program
  • All teachers in the building must be given the opportunity to participate
  • All parents in the program must be involved in PACT Time
  • PACT will be four hours per week for each parent
  • Parents must be willing to learn the teaching strategies used in the classroom
  • Parents must debrief PACT with the adult teacher

Other guidelines included:

  • All faculty and staff will be trained in implementation and integration of the four components
  • We will establish by-in from all players
  • We will have a recruiting fair to share information with community/parents
  • We will meet with interested parents who want to commit to the program
  • We will hold a training for parents and explain the four components of family literacy

Tony Covarrubia, former principal at Summit View in Tucson, further stated that family literacy became a critical part of the school's focus and it made a positive difference in each child and parent involved.

This scenario has been repeated in many of the schools where we have worked and we have seen whole school cultures change. Title I principals are saying this is the first "true" parent involvement initiative that has meaningfully connected parents to the school. Classroom teachers are seeing the value in PACT Time and extending PACT to involve other parents. One district superintendent has stated that she would like to see family literacy services offered in all the Title I schools in the district.

It is exciting to see what is happening in these schools with this initiative. Data collected by NCFL from teachers of family literacy students across the nation give convincing evidence that student achievement and student behavior are being positively affected because of the comprehensive involvement of the parent in the program. This is what classroom teachers need to hear.

Brenda W. Logan
Director of School Reform Initiatives
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

F2. From: Laura Bercovitz

In our program, the custodian at one of the sites proved to be very powerful. It was an evening program and apparently he had chosen night duty because he wanted to have time by himself and play his tape player. Along comes our program and there are suddenly hallways filled with 40-50 parents and approximately 60 children. His discontent was revealed when he began being late in opening the doors for the staff and families. We had to do a lot of courting (and gift buying) to bring him around.

Subscribers' Responses.

F3. My experiences agree with Laura. Support of the principal is the most critical. In our district the principals run their buildings and make most building decisions. Also they are held responsible for student achievement. The secretary is also very important as he/she has most contact with the parents including the first contact with parents who come to register their children and also helps manage the principal's phone calls and appointments. He/she seems to know most of everything and everyone in the building.

Jane Meyer

G. Does anyone have "generic" ideas for PACT time for family literacy involving K-6?

Before the week ends, I did want to address the PACT activities as they relate to a school-aged family literacy program. Jane Meyer wrote about her program and how well coordinated the PACT activities were to the classroom lessons. In our program we had difficulty reaching into all the classrooms because of the large grade range and we were working in multiple schools. In addition we were working with ESOL families and although many of the children spoke English, most of the parents were non or very limited speakers. We also wanted the parents to take a leadership role in learning with their children.

We decided to focus on "the enjoyment of books" such as wordless books. In this way we were able to have families work in their first language in either orally telling a story or writing it down. There are many wordless books out their that have complex stories and hold the attention of both adults and older children. One author is David Wiesner. Some of his books are low or no texts stories, often "science fiction" in content such as: June 29, 1999 or Tuesday. Ask your local librarian for a list.

We also worked with books that were "games" that parents and children could play. Tona Hoban has a book Look! Look! Look! which has you trying to identify a picture from small part that is exposed. the I Spy books were a big hit.

Another activity was sequencing pictures and then telling or writing a story.

Anyone else have "generic" PACT ideas for families with older school-aged children?


Guests' Responses.

G1.PACT TIME provides children, parents and teachers with a very unique opportunity.

  1. Teachers now have a parent who comes in as a learner to understand how to help in the literacy development of their child. Teachers have an opportunity to model teaching techniques, appropriate discipline...., They have an opportunity to communicate and work as partners with parents.
  2. Parents have an opportunity to work with their child with a great deal of support. During AE they become prepared academically. During Parent Time they discuss issues that have arisen from their PACT Time experience. During PACT Time they have a teacher who can assist and guide them so that when they go home, as a parent in the TFS Awareness video says, "I can help them (do homework) they way they do it school... Not the way I learned to do it"
  3. Children have the opportunity to SEE the teacher and his/her parent work as a team and can feel proud that his parent has taken time to come into the school for this special time. (CE teachers and family literacy staff report increased attendance and behavior among PACT Time students. In the PACT Time video a 5th grade teachers from Tucson says his PACT Time students "jumped two or three grade levels in reading.")

In New Orleans a teacher has a special folder with teacher made materials (and commercial material also) that reflect class instruction and that is individualized for the particular student so even before the parent comes in he knows what can be used for a successful PACT Time experience.

PACT Time materials for school-age children from many sources. Many basals have related trade books and activities that support the class lesson. Many basals have supplemental work books that can be converted to great hands on activities. There are many publications on the website that can provide rigorous academic support yet positive non threatening activities for literacy development. Check out these publications Learning Partners: A guide to Educational Activities for Families - MIS 97-6518; How to Help your Child Learn to Read; Reading Tips for Parents. Many of these publications come in English and Spanish.

I will try to keep my response briefer in the future.


J.L."Shani" Yero, Program Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

G2. Betsy Cornwell wrote: Involving parents in Reading Recovery sounds wonderful....

There are many programs that have a component where parents, potentially can become involved. Success for All (for one) has a family involvement component, and most basals have accompanying family involvement supplemental materials. All of these "programs" can help in providing content for appropriate literacy development activities for parents and their children (PACT Time). I feel the classroom teacher is one of the best sources for PACT Time activities and by collaborating with the adult ed teacher the PACT Time experience can be most beneficial and relevant to both parent and child needs. Beware of "purple people eaters" (I'm showing my age) - ditto sheets or worksheets. Optimally, PACT Time should be active and engage the parent and child in more than completing a worksheet. One of the findings of the NRP confirm dialogue and discussion as strategies to foster good comprehension skills. Many of our children with the greatest need lack good communication skills. Activities that stimulate good communication, and multiple modalities (auditory, tactile -kinesthetic...) are ideal. We must also remember that PACT Time is also a time for parents to observe appropriate behaviors, instructional techniques and children interactions.

J.L."Shani" Yero, Program Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

Subscribers' Responses.

G3. What a wonderful focus and discussion this week!

In a family literacy program in Colorado - PACT Time for elementary aged students became a school wide focus of interactions with all parents.

The staff realized the positive attributes of PACT (parent - child focus, child motivated) and the significance of the PACT process, preparing, acting on that preparation, and reviewing.

Teaching teams took it upon themselves to remove the burden of activities generally associated with "parent involvement" from the parent and provide them the responsibly associated with supporting their child's literacy development.

Families were taught the PACT processes of Prepare, Act, Review and teachers exemplified this by providing details about classroom activities and means to support children within those activities to each parent who ventured in.

It became quite a process to watch adults from the family literacy program who were asked to lead this school wide change, educating teachers and parents alike in the PACT Time process.

Overall the impact student performance was measurable. Teachers focused on how parents impact student learning, and how to facilitate this by sharing with parents strategies and learning experiences within the classroom and as extensions for the home. Each family became the "change agent" in their own children's lives and teachers grew to count on each families interactions and carry over to their homes.

No process is as smooth as I just described above, however, training, "buy-in", ownership, and a school wide focus seemed to be the catalysts in this particular case.

Jon Lee

[Guest response: What a great way to empower parents and having them become the change agents. Usually in schools the change agent role belongs to school staff. Laurie Bercovitz]

H. Other comments

H1. From: Mary Hendrick

Thank you all for your wonderful ideas. I think you've hit on a real key point: family literacy provides an opportunity to involve parents in their children's education, something most teachers believe to be very important to the success of their students.

I initially sent letters to more than 15 elementary school principals in our immediate area and followed up with phone calls. I really didn't take no for an answer. If a principal was too busy or the teachers too stretched for time I suggested making a presentation to the reading specialists, literacy team or school counselor. One school suggested the PTA. I made the presentations brief and to the point, using the parent involvement hook. I ended the presentation by donating a small set of story books to their reading program.

We are meeting this week with one school to see if we can collaborate on a biweekly parenting class, monthly "family literacy night" PACT activities and weekly basic literacy classes for parents at their school. Another school wants to refer families to our existing family literacy program which includes adult basic literacy classes, home visits, a book bag program and family get-togethers.

H2. This has been a very interesting, and lively discussion.

Shani Yaro makes a great point about the need for teacher training in developing real partnerships between families and schools. Another partner in the process has to be the student! Some students really don't want their parents getting too involved in their school life. I think family literacy practitioners might want to make some of these same points for a wider audience. Our website, is hosting an on-line discussion based on the work of the Family Involvement Network of Educators, from Jan. 14 to Jan. 21, which uses a case study about the attitudes of kids, families and teachers towards each other and the home-school connection as a starting point. I invite you to take a look and join in?

Jan Richter, Outreach specialist for Connect for Kids

H3. What a great discussion! I'm interested in hearing more about how family literacy programs both recruit and retain do you make sure they show up enough to get ownership and stay involved?

Also, did any elementary districts contract with neighboring high school districts to provide adult ed services? Or do you recommend keeping a unified front, so to speak?

Thank you!

Nancy Van Leuven
Rio Linda Union School District

H4. Cleveland Reads has received many grants to research and develop tutoring programs for the K - 4 school children. We'd be glad to share our results. Catherine Thomas

H5. Laura Berkovitz:
Can we get copies of your curriculum? How did you address cultural differences in expectations on the part of teachers and parents? Did you work with teachers on this?
Kathleen Bombach

[Guest reply: Given the discussion a few weeks past about selling products on this listserv, I'm not comfortable discussing in too great detail the curriculum (Parents as Educational Partners) over this listserv. I'd be happy to provide answers if you email me directly. Laura Bercovitz]

I. Closing by the List Moderator.

Already, it is Friday night. Laura Bercovitz, Brenda Logan, and Shani Yero have been terrific this week to read all the postings, share from their experience, and respond to many of your comments and questions. Thanks for taking so much time this week to "visit" with us, Laura, Brenda, and Shani.

Although all three of these women are subscribers to the list, they will be traveling and returning their main focus to other tasks. But, the discussion can/may continue, so continue sharing your thoughts and ideas with each other.

Nancy Sledd
NIFL-Family list moderator
Senior Training Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY


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