A school year has spun by so quickly since we began Souns with the Even Start Family Literacy Program in Georgia. Five counties participated, with one center in each. The centers ranged from childcare settings which met daily during the week to centers with once a month visits by families. Almost every site included home visits by Even Start teachers.
From my experience, the people involved in ESFLP are an inspiration and such a positive reflection on the efforts to build literacy in Georgia. Each site is unique in its style and population. I have delighted in the eagerness of a parent watching her four-year-old child demonstrate letter-sound knowledge while she, herself, was on her way to a classroom to study for the GED. She is determined her child will have a head start in school. A home visitor shared the success she was having with a family whose child was not succeeding in school because of reading issues. There are abundant anecdotes of how Souns made a difference for children and their families. One teacher bemoaned the fact that the Even Start Family Literacy Program did not have Souns until this year, saying it would have made a tremendous difference had they had it during previous years.
We also learned about the conditions that make it harder for Souns to succeed. Souns works best when a child has regular exposure to the program. Souns once a month does not give as positive results as Souns being taught each day. Home visits were successful where the family supported the program between visits. Children who miss many days of school are clearly in jeopardy of not progressing as well as their classmates who attend regularly. The teachers voiced this frustration many times, “The program works if the child is here.”
Souns is an early literacy program that teachers love and children love if we can get the teacher, the material, and the children together on a regular basis. An exceptional academic program and great teachers are two critical legs of a stool that will not stand without the third leg – the child, supported by their family. The issues that challenge families who qualify for Georgia’s Even Start Family Literacy Program are clearly issues that are not easily remedied by the best of intentions or the greatest of programs and teachers. We must find a way to intercept families earlier and in incidental ways that adapt to the needs and schedules of very determined parents with complicated daily lives. How can we reach the most predictable teacher for a child – the parent – with the right information to build literacy at home? This hope I gained from this year. That is our goal, and I thank the Even Start Family Literacy Program for giving us such a clear direction for helping children. Every parent wants their child to read!