As you walk through the corridors of Holy Cross you will see that one room is different. It’s the literacy room, where volunteers are making an incredible difference in the futures of our students by volunteering their time to teach literacy skills.
Here Sue Barkhouse of Raise Me Up and her team of volunteers work one on one with more than 50 students to help them master the skills of reading, spelling and writing. And she’s had great success. The program is so successful, that other schools asking are for the program at their schools, too.
Sue’s keys to success are to create a positive environment and really focus on what a child can do and work from there, to celebrate success no matter how small, and to work with a system that makes it easy for one volunteer to pick up where a previous volunteer left off, so no child looses momentum if their volunteer can’t make it that week.
The children love the program, too. Sue says that at first some students were embarrassed to come to the program as other students would tease them. But now all the students can see that it’s fun and it really works so they’re excited to come – and now their class mates want to be a part of it, too.
One volunteer recalls “On my first day volunteering I had a student who as so resentful about being there, he would not even look at me. I barely got any co-operation from him that week. Last week he came into the Literacy Program before school and WANTED to start early so we had more time. He now loves demonstrating to me that he understands new concepts. I’ll admit it. I cried.”
The children at Holy Cross face many of the common barriers to literacy, including growing up speaking a different language, changing schools as parents move for work and having parents who struggle with English literacy or who have little time outside of work to help with reading. There are also a few Belizean challenges thrown in, including pronunciation differences that make spelling hard, such as “th” almost always being pronounced as “t” or “d” and many word endings not being pronounced properly, like fry jack instead of fried jack. On top of that, the curriculum moves fast, making it easy for children to be left behind.
The program breaks literacy skills down into 4 levels, which each level broken down into many smaller sections, each with smaller tasks and goals. Each child has a binder, which clearly shows them and their volunteer what tasks they’re working on and what will come next. Then there are rewards for making progress – praise, stickers, entry into the lucky draw for ice-cream, and your very own book to take home when you finish a level.
Each child moves at their own pace, as they and their volunteers work together to master each skill.
The volunteers also love to be a part of the program. “It does my heart good to see the children smile with satisfaction when they achieve and succeed.” says one volunteer. “I feel like I’m making a difference in their lives.” Says another.
You can help, too
You can also help with this program, either by volunteering your time or donating supplies.
Volunteering is easy – you don’t need experience, just patience. You can volunteer for a little as one hour a week, or for 6 hours a week. Contact us to be put in touch with the program leader.
Donations of the following supplies are also needed:
- Alphabets (e.g. games, blocks, puzzles, foam, leap-frog, tiles, flash cards…)
- Literacy games
- Step and reading level books
- Dr Seuss books, Harry Potter books.
- Basic supplies (markers, pencils, tape, post-it notes, index cards, write and wipe pockets)
- Reward stickers
- Small prizes
Thanks for those who came before
This program would not be possible without the MANY, MANY people who have worked hard on this program and it’s previous iterations, some of whom are listed below.
Our sincere thanks go to:
- Ginger Rogers, who faithfully ran our literacy summer school for many years and shared her vision for a program that would reach younger students year round.
- Gail Neal, who set up our first ongoing literacy program, despite having no room, few resources and little help.
- Kathy McDonald, who continued to run that program when Gail retired.
- Olivia Tasher, our Vice Principal, who spearheaded the project of setting up a dedicated room for literacy improvement.
- All Holy Cross teachers, who work tirelessly with whole classes of students from incredibly challenging and varied backgrounds
- Brittney O’Daniel and Sue Barkhouse, who run this current program as part of the many, many efforts of Raise Me Up
- Projects Abroad, for bringing in many of the volunteers who run this program.
- The many individuals who have run literacy interventions, worked one on one with students, volunteered in the literacy program at various stages or simply encouraged our students to keep trying.