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Lift Up Through Literacy

Lift Up Through Literacy is a rapidly growing Kalamazoo Public Schools program that teaches hands-on literacy skills to parents and children that they can use at home on an everyday basis. The eight-week sessions are divided into classes for birth through two years, two through pre-school, and kindergarten through eighth grade. The program targets at-risk families, but any interested parent is welcome.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Lift Up Through Literacy Executive Director Yvonne Davis: We operate in the community, and our goal is to work with the sites where classes are held to create sustainability. We work with churches, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other community organizations to perform outreach and to host the classes. We even go door to door to get the message out about the program.
Something that we didn’t expect was that parents are staying with the program, so we’ve stepped up and expanded our curriculum and class offerings. We’ve gone from four sites to 12 sites within just a couple years, and parents are hearing about it more through word of mouth from other parents.
We let our parents know that we are not here to judge, and we listen to their concerns; they often have valuable suggestions.

What are the keys to success for your program?
The most important key is our partnership with schools, community, and parents. Becoming a literate community requires that we’re all on board, with everyone doing their part to provide support.
The level of trust we have established is also a key to our success. Many times programs are put in place without a leadership that is willing to listen to the needs of those they serve. We let our parents know that we are not here to judge, and we listen to their concerns; they often have valuable suggestions.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
Although we are growing, recruitment remains a challenge. We started off publicizing the program through radio, signs, and fliers, but we’re finding that word of mouth is working for us the best. Our parent participants are “selling” the program to their families and friends.
Another challenge is communicating to parents about why this program is important; we need to get the idea across that literacy skills should be implemented before children are in school. If parents don’t understand this, they may assume their child can wait until school age to begin learning, and by then, there’s already a gap.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
We use the Kid Builders curriculum, but we’ve added and adapted our programming to meet the needs of our participants. For example, some families have stayed in the program for additional eight-week sessions, so we try to come up with new material. We listen to the comments parents and kids are making and use that to influence our curriculum.
It's inspiring to see how excited the parents are once they get here, and to see the bond they develop with their kids in the classes.
We also encourage our families to be aware of and take advantage of other programs in the community. We’ve taken groups to plays and museums as part of the curriculum, and designed lessons to go along with those activities.
Most of all, we want to make sure our lessons are engaging and that parents understand that they can build skills early. We teach with hands-on materials like puppets and bubble wands and ask questions to engage the children, such as “What does it look or feel like?” Kids have so much to express, and it’s all about making sure they have the words to do so.
What are people in your program most inspired by? 
It’s inspiring to see how excited the parents are once they get here, and to see the bond they develop with their kids in the classes. Also, parents who have been in the classes longer become “support” for the new families; we often partner them up so we can take the lesson to the next level.
It’s great to see that the parents are at the point where they’re sharing what they’re doing at home with the new parents; that everything is a learning opportunity. If you’re walking to the bus stop, you can talk about right and left. You can keep a piggy bank -- math is literacy, too. One parent wrote a list of how to communicate with your child when they come home from school. We’re actually getting ready to put a book together of all of our parent suggestions and ideas.
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  • Kalamazoo Public Schools
    Kalamazoo Public Schools is a district of about 12,000 students, the largest school district in southwest Michigan and the second largest on the west side of the state. Since the Kalamazoo Promise was announced in 2005, giving free college tuition ...


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