Chapter 1 Family Literacy section one: what is family literacy?

The Even Start Initiative: An Overview

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The Even Start Initiative: An Overview

This section is intended for groups who are considering developing an Even Start program in their communities. The information provided comes from local Even Start program personnel and the State Even Start Consultant. First, we provide an overview of Even Start. Next we answer questions and offer suggestions about collaboration, recruitment, transportation, and food services--areas new programs frequently wonder about. We conclude with some general questions that groups may wish to consider before submitting their applications and several sources for further information. According to law, Even Start (ES) programs are “intended to improve educational opportunities of the Nation’s children and adults by integrating early childhood education and adult education for parents into a unified program... The program shall be implemented through cooperative projects that build on existing community resources to create a new range of services.” (PL 100-297, Sec. 1051). If you would like to read the ES legislation, see a) the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments of 1988;|TOM:/bss/d100query.html b) the National Literacy Act of 1991 ; c) the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 and d) the William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Programs legislation


Parents and children participate in ES as family units. In general, families qualify when a) parent(s) are eligible for adult basic education (they lack a high school diploma or equivalent academic skills) or are in high school and b) children are younger than age eight.

ES must provide integrated programming in early childhood education, adult basic education, parenting education, and opportunities for parents and children to interact in literacy-related activities. Therefore, ES focuses on the family rather than just parents or children. Some instruction must occur during home visits. ES goals are to:

  • help parents become full partners in the education of their children.

  • assist children in reaching their full potential as learners.

  • provide basic education and literacy training for parents.

ES funding to states is based on their proportion of Title I Basic Grant funds. ES programs are four-year demonstration projects, awarded through a competitive grant process. The statute sets minimum funding for individual programs with the federal portion of a program’s total budget diminishing over the years of the award. Local programs are expected to take on more of the fiscal burden for the program as the federal share lessens.

Planning Suggestions

  • Take time to find out what already exists in your community; try to find ALL the providers of certain services. See if your area has a child care collaborative, such as a Unified Child Service Plan, or a Family Council. Check with ODE or the Ohio Literacy Network (adult education), human services, Departments of Job and Family Services, health department, MRDD, public library, hospitals, public housing authority, vocational schools, etc.

  • Get people together to talk. Don’t assume this is already happening. Ask about existing collaboratives. Read your county’s Unified Service Providers Plan.

  • Keep the focus during planning on families, not on agencies.

  • Keep the focus during planning on pulling existing services together rather than creating a new program.

  • Conduct a needs assessment and/or survey of existing services related to family education. Use ES funds to fill in gaps and provide coordination.

  • Start by discussing what services can be provided. Initially, at least, disregard decisions about who will assume fiscal responsibility for the project.

  • Find out about (and join) collaborative groups already operating in the community, especially those related to any aspect of ES programs. Possibilities include Family and Children First Councils and Common Good Linkage Teams.

  • Look for partners who can offer what your families need (e.g., transportation, housing, counseling, vocational training).

  • Keep it simple. Start small and grow. Begin with partnerships that are highly likely to be successful.

  • Good contacts: ABLE and other adult education providers (such as Proliteracy programs), ECE programs (such as Head Start and public preschools), social service providers, county departments of job and family services, YMCA/YWCA, hospitals, colleges/ universities, vocational schools, K- 12 schools (especially those with Title I school wide projects), boards of MRDD, mental health services. Some needed services are obvious, but many coordinators of established programs say they wish they had involved mental health services earlier.

Effective Partners/ Partnerships

  • Willingness to commit resources in a very specific written agreement. (Be certain agency heads will honor the commitments made by their representatives.)

  • Willingness to meet for planning and for ongoing management.

  • Willingness to provide funds, services, or other assets that will benefit the project. Even Start is the second funder. The partners are the first funders of the family literacy program.
  • Willingness to develop and work to implement a program with a clear sense of mission for the four-year period.

Elect a leader as soon as the planning group is formed; then select a fulltime coordinator ASAP. Ideally, the coordinator will be involved in planning the program.

Co-applicants, sitting on a management team, should be jointly responsible for recruitment, management, and coordination of all aspects of the project. The coordinator should ensure that collaborative efforts are tracked and that all ES components are followed.
The fiscal agent should be the agency where the coordinator is housed and one accustomed to dealing with grants; analyze the structure and mission of all interested agencies to make this decision.
The coordinator should be a “people person” who has the respect of the team. S/he also needs good organizational skills and follow-through ability. Good teachers are not always good “hustlers”; go for the hustler. The goals of the coordinator are:

  • to ensure that the project is carried out according to plan.

  • to facilitate all aspects of the project: daily management, recruitment, program implementation and design, cooperation among agencies, staffing, evaluation, budgeting, making decisions, keeping all informed.

  • to promote the program throughout the community, particularly with social service agencies.

  • to act as program representative within agencies and the community.

  • to seek new opportunities for services, recruiting, funding, etc. (see chapter 7 for staff job descriptions)

When recruiting students for the program:

  • Start with existing pools: adult education, Head Start, public preschool, county Department of Human Services, early childhood education programs, K-2 teachers, WIC clinics, hospital neonatal units, churches.
  • Work one-on-one, face-to-face.

  • Use students as recruiters and speakers.

  • Create events and share them faithfully with local media.

  • Make a recruitment plan that involves all staff and follow through on it.

  • Make recruitment a top priority for all staff by including it in written job descriptions.

  • Follow up on referrals and let the person who made the referral know what the outcome was.

  • Recruit honestly. Make the program meet student’s needs. If ES isn’t an appropriate placement, recommend another program to the student. (see chapter 8 for more information on participant recruitment and retention)


  • Locate programs as near as possible to the population to be served. If possible, locate all services in one site to minimize need for transportation.

  • Use bus tokens or passes; public school, Head Start, or church buses or vans.

  • Use ES money to lease buses or vans.

  • Coordinate your reimbursement policies and procedures with other state/ federal programs.


  • Include food in your budget. It is a great motivator.

  • Buy a small refrigerator and crock pot. Buying and preparing food is a great learning activity.

  • Check into buying food from your school district’s food services.

  • Ask local food stores and restaurants to make donations.

  • Apply to a local food bank for membership. (Schools do not qualify, but other co-applicants may.)

  • Serve healthy snacks during half-day sessions rather than full meals.

Parents under 20 are entitled to free food through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (See Government Offices, U.S. Government in your yellow pages.)

Day Care

  • Contract with existing providers (Head Start, public preschools, nonprofits, YMCA/YWCAs) or supplement existing programs.

  • Try to locate the parents’ class in (or near) the children’s school.

  • Learn about licensing requirements before developing your own child care facility.

Questions to consider before applying for a grant

  • What are community needs, and how can ES help address them? What are community assets, and how will ES build on them?

  • Is true collaboration possible in this community among these agencies?

  • To what extent does the program fit with school district and community goals? Do the agency heads and/or building principals really want a family literacy program?

  • Are we willing to comply with ES regulations?

  • Who will provide the core components? Where? When? Where will ES offices be located? Who will develop policies and procedures to implement ES federal guidelines?

  • Where will matching funds come from?

  • How will the curriculum reflect learners’ interests? How will successful students be different from when they began the program?

  • Are there barriers (e.g., transportation, child care) to successful implementation?

  • How many families can we realistically serve? What age(s) of children should we target?

  • As a demonstration project, how will we demonstrate that ES dollars are being used effectively and are adding value to existing educational services?

  • Visit an existing ES program, ideally one that is similar to what you have in mind. Contact the Office of Family and School Partnerships for visitation sites.

For general information about family literacy, contact the Ohio Literacy

Resource Center

For more information about ES, contact

The State Coordinator

Ohio Department of Education

Office of Early Learning and School Readiness

25 S. Front St., MS 305
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 466-0224
Turning Points

In the paper “Turning Points in Even Start Programs: Occasional Paper #4” by Nancy Padak and Tim Rasinski of Kent State University, Even Start program coordinators described what they considered to be the activities that led to a sense of security and unified purpose. The advice that follows, which is drawn from the results of this study, may give direction to new projects on what they might expect to experience in getting established and what sorts of activities seem to push fledging programs out of the nest.

(1) Craft a mission statement that will give planners a sense of purpose. Make it so meaningful that in difficult times partners can return to it and be reminded of why they developed a family literacy program in the first place. Usually, this simply means remembering that the program is to serve families.

(2) Develop with cooperating agencies firm, written agreements outlining exactly what each agency will contribute and receive from the overall project. Too often, program planners collect general letters of support and then find themselves trying to specify working relationships at the same time they are trying to hire staff, recruit, order equipment, and so on. Save time and effort by getting specific agreements first.

(3) Secure a site based not only on convenience but also, maybe more importantly, on the commitment of the building administrator. An administrator who will sell your program to parents walking down the hallway and who will enlist the support of his or her building staff will move your project months ahead of the administrator who does not recruit and who lets other building staff complain about having to share space with Even Start. Again, get a written agreement as to the commitment of space.

(4) Clarify with cooperating agencies that provide staff (most likely ABLE and preschool programs) what kind of persons are needed to make a holistic approach to serving disadvantaged families succeed. And clarify that the Even Start coordinator needs the right to reject instructors who cannot effectively work in a family literacy setting.

(5) Start up! Don’t wait until everything is perfectly in place. The program will experience periods of stumbling, and they might as well be encountered sooner as later. Jump in and start serving families.

(6) As staff are hired, ask them about their attitudes toward instructional issues that can make Even Start sink or swim. What do they believe about assessment, about how adults learn to read, about methods of instruction, about the use of workbooks, about the use of real-life materials, about willingness to plan instruction as a team, about the purpose and value of home visits? Staff who cannot agree on most of these matters and who are not flexible will keep the program from moving forward - and will keep coordinators awake at night.

(7) Don’t start from scratch in recruiting families. Go to ABLE classes, Title I parent meetings, Head Start parent meetings; send notices by way of public school and Head Start children. And as you recruit, be clear about what Even Start provides and expects from participants. There is no value in recruiting families who do not want the entire Even Start package. Also think about ways to introduce parents gradually into the program by first introducing them to the components they do want (most frequently, GED preparation) and then adding the other components once they have a sense of commitment. If families are not successfully recruited fairly quickly, staff becomes demoralized.

(8) Staffing patterns in Even Start can be complicated - adult educators, parent educators, early childhood educators, child care aides, some working at a central location and some working in homes, some hired by Even Start and some working for cooperating agencies. Insist that staff experience training as a team and plan some instruction together as a team. This expectation has to be communicated to cooperating agencies and to staff being interviewed, and it needs to be included in those written agreements mentioned above. Some projects spend months in frustration because staff did not have a shared sense of purpose.

(9) Give parents ownership in every way possible. Involve them in developing and carrying out recruitment plans. Ask them to write orientation materials. Ask them to provide orientation to new families. Ask them what they would like to learn about their children, about parenting, about health, about job preparation, about other training opportunities. Examples of what can result include Barberton where parents attend a weight reduction class, Kettering where families remodeled an old house, Cleveland where parents mobilized for playground improvement at their elementary school, Canton where parents selected and shopped for the computers to purchase for their classroom. Obviously this requires the flexible staff referred to above, staff who can stand back and watch the parents go. Giving parents ownership fosters commitment and steady attendance. The program grows and staff are energized.

(10) Remember that the federal legislation says that the applicant is a PARTNERSHIP. Even Start does not belong to a single agency. Figure out and write down how agencies will function in a partnership. Make decisions as partners. Hire staff as partners. Solve problems as partners. Evaluate the program as partners.

Family Literacy Program Development: Issues to Consider

Understanding the Population

• Who are the people to be served?

• What are their needs around family support issues?

• What are their literacy needs?

• What key community and agency leaders can help define the needs to be served?

• How are the potential learners involved in expressing their concerns and needs about parenting and family life?

• What information is needed about the community and the issues it faces?

• How have issues of language and culture been addressed?

Program Design and Development

• How will family needs be met most effectively?

• Direct or indirect programming for parents

• Direct or indirect programming for children

• Combined parent/child programming

• What age children will be served?

• How are funding priorities and constraints addressed and met?

• What are specific program goals and objectives? Anticipated outcomes?

• How are learners involved in program planning?

• How will learners’ initial needs, strengths, and goals be assessed?

Staffing Issues

• How does program staffing address family and cultural backgrounds of learners?

• What kind of professional development opportunities are needed and made available--in child development/parenting skills, adult literacy, emergent literacy, and cultural awareness/multicultural education?
Community/Agency Involvement and Collaboration

• How are ongoing relationships maintained with community partners, agencies?

• How are family literacy programs and services integrated with the delivery of other family and social services?

Curriculum Development

• Scope: determining program components

• What will be included for parents?

• Literacy instruction?

• Parenting skills?

• Employment-related skills?

• Support of children’s learning?

• What will be included for children?

• Emergent literacy instruction, support?

• Structure

• Home-based vs. site-based?

• What activities are for parents and children together vs. separately?

• Language and culture

• How are learners’ native languages and cultures incorporated into the curriculum?

• How are learners’ family cultures and patterns incorporated into the curriculum?

• What family and cultural resources are utilized as instructional materials?

• How are the strengths, wisdom, and history of the family valued and integrated into the learning process?

• Collaboration among learners and program staff

• What opportunities are available for sharing successes, concerns, learnings, and problem solving?

• Is a sense of community fostered among the learners and teachers?

• What roles are played by adults, children, and program staff? What kinds of opportunities are there for flexible roles?


• What kinds of learner and program outcomes are expected?

• How are they evaluated? Measured?
Source: National Center on Adult Literacy. (1995). Families and literacy: Making sense of the issues. Philadelphia: Author.

Planning for Diversity: Discussion Grid

Brainstorm with colleagues to fill in the cells

How can needs

of adults, as

they themselves

define them, be

identified and


How can native

language and

culture be supported?

How can

tradition and change

be integrated?

How can channels

for inter-generational


of knowledge be

restored and/or


How can community

be fostered

among learners

and practitioners

who serve them?

1. Early



2. Adult education/

English as a

second language

3. Parent time

4. Parents and



How to add family literacy to your program. Syracuse, NY: Literacy Volunteers of America
Checklist: Learners’ Lives as Curriculum

  • Have community leaders and key players been identified for adult learners you wish to serve?

  • Are these leaders invited to teach you about the needs, concerns, and interests of adult learners?

  • Are adult learners given ways to express their concerns and interests about parenting and about family life?

  • Does the program have bilingual personnel or volunteers to talk to adult learners in the languages they know best?

  • Do language teaching materials reflect the concerns that adult learners raise?

  • Are narratives about learner experiences collected and used in the language and literacy classrooms?

  • Do adult learners have an opportunity to discuss how they did things in their country (or region) of origin?

  • Do they have an opportunity to learn about new ways and new resources in the United States?

  • Do adult learners have an opportunity to evaluate for themselves, in discussion with peers, which strategies for living to keep, and which strategies to change?
  • Do teachers and administrators have information about parenting, schooling and discipline in adult learners’ countries or regions of origin?

  • Is acquisition of parents’ native languages and understanding of places of origin encouraged for children?

  • Are parents’ native languages used or demonstrably valued in the program?

  • Is there an opportunity in the educational curriculum for adult learners to remember and document the past?

  • Is there an opportunity for children in the program to hear about or imagine what life was like in their parents’ countries (or regions) of origin?

  • Does the program use folk tales, oral history, proverbs, or other media for transmitting native cultural values?

  • Do family members or community elders play any part in the program?

  • Do adult learners in this program have an opportunity to share experiences with one another?

  • Is there any opportunity for collective problem-solving among adult learners?

  • Are the learnings and reflections of adult learners shared with others?

  • Do practitioners have an opportunity to discuss successes, concerns, and insights on a regular basis as part of the job (i.e., on paid staff time)?

  • Is time built for team-building and fun, both for learners in the classroom and for practitioners at work?

  • Are the learnings and reflections of program personnel made available, in some form, to share with others?

How to add family literacy to your program. Syracuse, NY: Literacy Volunteers of America.

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