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Linda Mah
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Families Love Lift Up Through Literacy

New Session of Free Family Program Begins Jan. 31

Parents who have participated in Kalamazoo Public Schools’ Lift Up Through Literacy programs, say they have seen their children’s vocabulary and reading skills improve.

They love that.

But there are lots of other things they love about the programs as well. They love the sense of community. They love the activities. They love the chance to talk to other parents and to see other children. They love spending time together.

Lift Up Through Literacy launched in 2011 with 35 families. About 2,000 families have benefitted from Lift Up since it began six years ago. About 550 families regularly participate in the programs at nine sites in the community: Boys & Girls Club, Stones/Christian Life Center Church, First United Baptist Church, Fresh Fire AME Church, Interfaith Homes, Mount Zion Baptist, New Life Fellowship COGIC, Skyridge Church, and The Church of God Pentecostal.

Lift Up consists of three distinct programs: Parents of Newborns, which focuses on parenting skills; Parents of Preschoolers, for families with children ages 3 to 5; and Family Literacy, which builds reading and math literacy skills through fun interactive activities for families with children in kindergarten through high school.

The next eight-week session for all three groups begins Jan. 31 and runs through March 23. The 90-minute classes include a free dinner, books for children, and family learning activities. There are field trips, weekly door prizes, and an incentive for those completing the entire class.

Montrell Porter Sr. is a first-time father with an active — and verbal — toddler, Montrell Porter Jr. 3. Porter and his wife Roshona have been attending the classes with their son since he was an infant, with classes first at Mount Zion Baptist Church and now at Stones/Christian Life Center.

“We were first-time parents, and we wanted to learn about parenting and tips for raising a healthy child and helping with literacy,” Porter said. They knew about the program because Roshana Porter is a former educator, who worked with Lift Up Through Literacy.

They both knew about the importance of literacy from an early age, but participating in the program helped emphasize how literacy skills can develop even in infancy. Porter said he had always thought about reading as a bedtime activity, but his wife and the class helped him see reading and building literacy skills as activities that happen throughout the day.

Montrell Jr. attends day care, and the daycare staff have repeatedly told his parents how he far exceeds developmental expectations for vocabulary, in terms of understanding and using words.

 Tonyeaka Williams said she can definitely see see how Lift Up Through Literacy has benefitted her family.

She started attending the classes to provide support for her son Travion Williams, who was struggling with reading starting in about the fourth grade.

“I was definitely interested in learning ways to make it easier for me to teach him how read and and to make it easier for him to read.”

She often encouraged him to read, but Lift Up instructors encouraged her to be an active participant in Travion’s reading, with things like reading novels together — even as he got older.

 While her son saw reading as a chore, Williams’ daughter Coriah Williams, 5, has benefitted from experiencing reading as a fun activity through Lift Up. “It really has had an impact. She enjoys reading,” Williams said.

At Lift Up Through Literacy, the activities can range from listening to the story “Green Eggs and Ham” and making a breakfast plate collage to doing jumping jacks to some revved up nursery rhymes.

Lift Up makes literacy so fun, said Elizabeth Dana, that even on those nights she’s tired from work and thinks about skipping a session, her son Jaden Nichols, a third grader at El Sol Elementary, will say, “But mommy, ‘I want to go.’ He likes the kids. Everyone plays peacefully and fair. He enjoys picking out the books.”

It’s fun on a number of levels, parents said. Not only do the children enjoy the activities with other children, but they have the chance to enjoy reading as a family activity with their parents and guardians.

“I like having this time when we can come together as a family and learn together, grow together and even play together,” Porter said.

And, parents have a chance to form new friendships.

“I really enjoy engaging with the other parents,” Dana said. “Sometimes it’s nice to meet people and see if they share the same values that I share. You can ask others how do you do this, how do you do that and get ideas for parenting.”

Williams agreed with the importance of the parent-to-parent contact.

“I think the parenting sessions really help,” she said. “They can be a real help for parents who might need a little guidance or a support system.”

Williams said the infant and preschool classes place a heavy emphasis on building general parenting skills, such as nutritious meal planning and discipline. The family literacy classes puts a heavier emphasis on supporting the students’ own literacy skills.

The instructors are great resources and always have new ideas for parents to try with their children — whether it be in reading or general parenting, Porter said. They also do a good job of soliciting feedback from parents for suggestions on how to improve the program.

He encouraged other parents to check out Lift Up Through Literacy. It is a simple but worthwhile investment in your family, Porter said. The only thing it requires is a commitment to attending the weekly classes. “Nothing replaces presence,” he said. “You have to be there. You have to be engaged.

“I think this program is awesome. I wish more families would partake, so they can reap the rewards. I think it’s actually one of the hidden jewels of Kalamazoo.”

Click on the document below for a list of times, dates and places for the next Lift Up Through Literacy session. 
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