Teaching Literacy Skills to Underprivileged Children, Rotary Style
Becoming the Chair of the Literacy Committtee
Four years ago I was voluntold to become the founding Chair of the Literacy Committee of my local Belleville Rotary club by our then incoming District Govenor, Linda Ryder. I formed a committee and implemented a literacy project prescribed by that year’s Rotary International president, Wilf Wilkinson. Despite our best attempts, it failed utterly with the functionally illiterate adult clients we tried to teach at our local library. They found the computer program much too juvenile and repetitious to work on and we almost insulted by the materials and the presentation. This failure was not Wilf’s fault. He’s an accountant, not a remedial educator. He had accepted the recommendation for the program and wanted to try it out in a club in his district.
Rethinking the Literacy Program: Each One Teach One
My committee went back to Square #1 and made a critical decision. We collectively decided that any literacy program in which we would become involved had to actually teach children or adults to read. We were not going to read to kids or give them books to “read” by themselves.
So began the Each One –Teach One remedial reading program. As with most Rotary endeavors, we linked up with community partners, including the Core Centre, an outreach church. They provided the space and the volunteers. We provided the materials, training and supervision. We started small with only three children, and grew to seven students by the end of the first year.
Each One Teach One Starts to Grow
The following year we added a new community partner when the Belleville YMCA joined our efforts. They could easily supply needy at-risk children because they knew which families had subsidized memberships to their facility. Our Rotary club wanted to help families who had children who were behind at school, but who could not afford private tutoring services. We trained more tutors and added a few more supplies as a dozen students learned to read during that second year. Many of our new tutors were secondary school students from a nearby high school who needed community credits for some of their courses. They were excellent tutors.
The “Y” presented its own challenge. After school it became overcrowded and there was little room for tutoring kids. So in our third year, we arranged for a portable classroom, now known as “The Rotary Learning Centre” to be set up in a space behind the “Y”. The program blossomed to having 27 students and 27 tutors. The program received a 95% satisfaction rating from the parents whose children participated.
Now with 40-50 Students a Year
The committee now has a new chair, an excellent manager who also is a superb tutor. I still do the training and some supervision, but now I am free to contribute more to our international literacy project in Bangladesh – The Amarok Society literacy programs for mothers living in the slums of Dhaka. I suspect that next year we will have 40-50 students in our Each One-Teach One program.