Building a Bridge to Literacy

Kids Library low res

Neighborhood House knows that boosting literacy skills increases opportunities for people entrenched in poverty. We know that literacy is a building block to power and agency. And thanks to our supporters, FY19 marked the beginning of Neighborhood House’s targeted efforts to help school-aged youth achieve literacy.

Neighborhood House has long provided literacy services for adults and preschoolers, and the addition of literacy education for school-aged youth was a natural next step. We started small, helping students boost their literacy skills at one middle school (West Side Summit charter school) as well as at Neighborhood House’s Wellstone site. In the spring of 2019 we hired a new literacy instructor, Sara Jochems—and she immediately began to draw on her passion for literacy and prior work as an elementary classroom teacher to expand the Literacy program to more schools and more students. “I started thinking about the 2019/2020 school year as a ‘year of growth,’” Sara says. “We used the end of FY19 to begin laying the foundation for a robust Literacy program.”

To kick off our year of growth we hosted a Literacy Night in May 2019, a literacy-focused evening for Neighborhood House families. There were 53 participants at the event where Neighborhood House served pizza; hosted literacy activities in Spanish, Karen, and English; and gave away 195 books, many of them donated by customers of Barnes and Noble and the Red Balloon Bookshop. “Everyone left with books,” Sara says. “Months later, some of the kids still talk about the event.”

One of the challenges with selecting books for English Language Learners is that there is a broad age range of students—last year they spanned from 7 to 25 years old. “So we try to find books that are culturally responsive and relevant but also at an age and reading level that’s appropriate, which is not always easy to do,” Sara says.

Over the summer, Sara networked with school principals to establish partnerships for our Literacy program, including Riverview Elementary, Cherokee Heights, Humboldt, and Rivers Edge Academy. Neighborhood House secured partnerships with each of these sites, at which four to six students who are English Language Learners would be pulled from class to work with Neighborhood House’s Literacy Coach for 30 minutes, three to five days a week.

This is just the beginning of Neighborhood House’s plans for school-aged children’s literacy programming. We’re planning to create an on-site lending library at the Wellstone Center, as well as develop partnerships with local libraries. And culturally responsive, age-appropriate books are at the top of our reading list.