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By Sonya Bernard-Hollins Publisher, Community Voices

Teachers are not only in the schools; they are at home and in our community. By creating a lifestyle around literacy, children are learning from everyone around them, every day. In this part two special edition insert, Community Voices will focus on the importance of early language development and after-school literacy efforts led by people in our community. We also

highlight a teacher who shares her story of pre-school learning in the home while growing up in a bilingual home in Panama. Kalamazoo Public Sch Kalamazoo Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice notes, “Literacy is early language development, reading, and writing. It begins with reading, singing, and speaking to babies, and continues through the development of children’s reading and writing skills in

schools, pre-K through the end of one’s formal education, and beyond. Reading is in part what you bring to reading. You bring your history, your interests, your background. The more you bring, the more you will understand what you read. As parents, educators, and community members, we can all contribute to our children’s development in early language, reading, and writing.”

Children whose parents attend the Boys and Girls Club Parent Education classes through Lift Up Through Literacy enjoy active learning at Washington Square Library. Local photos, layout

and design by Fortitude Graphics


Librarian Nancy Stern pulled out a puppet of Curious George for her young visitors at Washington Square Library. She and her hand-held character became an instant hit to families who were a part of the KPS Lift Up Through Literacy Parent Education program hosted by the Boys and Girls Club. The handful of children, ages five months to 3 years old, may have been too young to read; however, that did not stop them from learning. Through the story, “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” they were taught counting, repetitive hand gestures, singing, and the consequences of jumping on the bed. Teaching early language development is one of the goals of the KPS initiative, which offers family literacy programs in six neighborhood sites throughout the city. The Boys

KPS Alumni: Words of Wisdom

“Education is first. We couldn’t play sports unless we had good grades. Circumstances may alter what you dream at the time; but if you have a good education, you always have something to fall back on.” Derek Jeter (‘92) is New York Yankees’ captain and shortstop, and author of, “You’re a Star,” which highlights positive self esteem.

“For Derek, in his career (education) is important for him because (baseball) is a business. So he’s able to comprehend what’s going on, and not just having people tell him what he signed up for.” Sharlee Jeter (‘97) is president of the Turn 2 Foundation.

Making Learning a Lifestyle! When folding clothes you can teach new words. “I am folding the clothes so they don’t get wrinkled. Do you know what wrinkled is? What other things are wrinkled?” While driving you can teach memorization through rhyme. “398-7653, that’s Grandma’s number in case of emergency.” and Girls Club site is coordinated by Shavon Williams, and allows for families to learn how to inspire and educate their children before they enter school. More than 30 families are participating in the Family Literacy Initiative at the club this quarter, according to Jill Angell, program coordinator of the Boys and Girls Club. The overwhelming response has inspired their coordinators to provide families with more child-care opportunities during the parent classes, computer training to be tech savvy in their child’s education, and more off-site learning experiences. The importance of literacy has led to the club’s theme, “Be Great, Read A Book,” which will be incorporated in summer initiatives the club hosts as well. To attend or learn more about this free program, call the Boys and Girls Club at 269-349-4485.

After watching a movie you can teach critical thinking. “Why were the little pigs afraid of the wolf? How would you build a wolf-proof home?” Each morning you can teach colors. “Today you are going to eat cereal from your blue bowl.” While cooking you can teach counting. “Let’s get three eggs to make a cake. Let’s get two cups of water. Let’s get one stick of butter.” Teach body parts through song. “The hip bones’s connected to the leg bone…”

*Tips from Lift Up Through Literacy parent participants.


“At first we had a handful of children visit. Some couldn’t sit still for any length of time. Some were not social, others didn’t even know how to write their names. Now, we may have more than 20 students at a session, and we see a big change in their growth.” Freda Hannah

Parents Learn to Teach

Some of the women of Urban Empowerment include: From left: Sharon Lockett, Ph.D., Freda Hannah, Gloria Parker, Kathryn Barber, and Ani Ashjian.

On Monday and Wednesday afternoons you can find a variety of women at Urban Blend Coffee House, located at 714 N. Burdick St. One may have a Ph.D. and is a retired school principal, while the other has a high school diploma and is a homemaker. There may be one who is a graduate student at Western Michigan University, one who completed the 10th grade, and yet another who is a retired paraprofessional. While on the surface these women of diverse backgrounds and ages seem to have little in common, their bond is their passion to make a difference in their community. Together they make up the grass roots organization, Urban Empowerment. In October of 2011, Urban Empowerment had their first mission. Together they would welcome into Urban Blend, struggling readers from the school down the block, Lincoln International Studies School. Kimberly Parker-DeVauld, principal, welcomed the assistance. She organized with the Y Center after-school program to deliver the students, and she provided some supplies. The women combine their experiences as grandmothers, educators, and business owners to deliver invaluable hands-on literacy sessions. Reading, writing, math, interactive self-esteem songs, and snacks are part of more than one hour of structured programming. Real-world activities are often used to connect educational concepts to their students’ lives. In one activity, the kindergarten through second graders learned the importance of living in a democratic society. And while they may not be able to vote for the next president, the women taught them the power of voting in an area they love—snacks. After a brief lesson on the democratic system, students received ballots with choices of snacks. At the end of their session, student representatives reported that ice cream won by an overwhelming margin. “Schools can only do so much,” said Gloria Parker, owner of Urban Blend and founder of Urban Empowerment. “We always talk about kids in gangs, hanging on the corner, and wearing their pants down. Well, those teenagers were this age once. And if we don’t take the time now, eventually the streets will.” To volunteer or contribute to Urban Empowerment, call 269-903-2212.

Scenario: You are in the doctor’s office with your two year old. She doesn’t want to hear a story. She doesn’t want to play with the toys. She is getting restless and so are you. What do you do?

Jacquie Jones, coordinator of the Lift Up Through Literacy Parent Education program at Christian Life Center, offers parents a solution with the Purse Game. Parents are challenged to find something in their purse that will provide stimulation, learning, and capture the attention of their child. Tamila Gordon (pictured above) said she would show keys to her three-year-old daughter, Ariah. “By showing her these keys, I can talk to her about what keys are for, what they do, how they protect you. She can count them, and learn their colors,” Gordon said. Lisa Landu (pictured below) said she would show her 4-year-old son, Joshua, what he has in his own pockets as an extension of the Purse Game. “He is always putting things in his pockets,” Landu said. “He has a rock in here today; so we can talk about where rocks are found, their color, their shape. He has coins here, so we can talk about the presidents on each coin, their value, and how to count

them.” Jones used everyday objects to stress the variety of ways literacy can become a lifestyle to children who aren’t old enough to read or write. The parents participating in the program say, what they have learned not only helps their child, but helps them become better teachers for their child. “Some parents get frustrated when their child won’t sit still for an entire story,” Jones said. Parents learn to break that reading time with something physical, and finish the story later. Also, it’s fine for a child to read the pictures and imagine what the story is about, and use that to spark conversation about objects, feelings, or outcomes of the story.” Folding clothes, singing your address or phone number w h i l e riding in the car; all are ways to m a k e literacy a lifestyle.”


For two years, Christina McGrinson awoke to her father studying to become a pharmacist. She sat on his lap and pointed to the diagrams of chemical formulas in his books. On his graduation day, the 7 year old proudly bounced down the aisle towards him, toting flowers. Everyone smiled at the little girl who was so proud of her father. “I felt as if, I too, was graduating, and was so proud,” said McGrinson, who retired as a teacher from KPS in 2004. “That day, he said to me, ‘You will be the next graduate in the family.’ After that, I always imagined myself walking down the aisle wearing a cap and gown. Once I was able to imagine it, I felt I could do it.”

She said being able to imagine things even before you can read or write, makes them more real when you begin connecting written words to their meaning. It is that type of early language development she said parents could do with their children from the day they are born. While she was growing up in a bilingual home in the Republic of Panama, imagination was a big part of her pre-school education. Her blind grandmother would direct her to places on a map and then tell fascinating facts about the country. That led to McGrinson seeking books with photos of these places, and imagining herself there. “I’ve traveled to places like Australia, Zambia, and Brazil,” she said. “When I get there, it creates such an emotional episode that I cry. It’s like I had already been there in my mind.” For her, teaching is a lot about helping students imagine everything from where they want to go, to graduating. “You can never get to a place, or do anything, until you get there first in your imagination,” she said.

Christina McGrinson came to the United States in 1962 from the Republic of Panama to attend Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. She moved to Kalamazoo in 1984, and soon began teaching for KPS. She is pictured with her parents on her graduation day. Inset of her father, Roy McGrinson, on his graduation day.

• Students spend 70 percent of their waking hours outside of school. • The earlier a parent gets involved in educating their child, the better he does in school. • Children who do well in school often have parents who: • Set high, realistic standards for their child • Establish daily home routines, responsibilities, and expectations • Model the value of learning, self-discipline, and hard work • Encourage reading, writing, and discussions among family members.

Facts from the Michigan Department of Education


Community Voices& Excelsior- May 2012