2012-2013 has been a great learning experience for the City of Holyoke’s Early Literacy Initiative: Reading is Power/Leer es Poder!
Community awareness is growing, as seen in the video documenting last June’s highly attended Literacy Night at Morgan School-a neighborhood k-8 school in one of Holyoke’s most impoverished sections.
In September, 2012, Mayor Alex Morse appointed the City’s First Early Literacy Coordinator, Andrew Melendez.
Andrew invites conversation with every stakeholder in the community from early childhood providers to business leaders. He coordinates the Early Literacy Design Team, composed of Holyoke’s Mayor, Superintendent of Schools, leadership of The United Way of Pioneer Valley, The George & Irene Davis Foundation, The Mass. Governor’s Youth and Readiness Council, The Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, and The Valley Opportunity Council, The Regional Director of Mass Early Education and Care, and representatives of The Holyoke Health Center and The Holyoke Housing Authority. The Design Team has agreed to act on three focus areas:
· Quality access to childcare
· Intense Parent and Family engagement and support
· Strong internal Public School focus
Andrew creates many community events to advance early literacy. A great example is an event hosted by the Holyoke Housing Authority last spring.
Thousands of books have been distributed at community events and through over a hundred organizations.
The Holyoke Public Schools has created strong new policies: the School Committee adopted third grade literacy the top priority in Holyoke’s district improvement plan, and a new chronic absence policy focused on early grades was passed by in May. This policy will identify and address high absenteeism among k-3 students, and will be in effect for the first time in September, 2013. Each principal is required to have early literacy as major focus at each K-8 school.
A new summer reading partnership with the Holyoke Public Library, the Holyoke Rotary Club, and the Holyoke Public Schools is in its second year. This initiative includes enhanced direct outreach to families, and resulted in the distribution of hundreds of new library cards at the end of the 2012 pilot summer program.
Holyoke is an active partner in the Massachusetts Third Grade Reading Proficiency Learning Network, a targeted group of communities committed to aligning research, policy and practice to ensure that children have access to high-quality early education and become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Together, the network’s five founding members—Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester—are home to more than 100,000 children, birth to age 9. All five applied for the 2012 All-America City Award, which focused on community efforts to improve early literacy. The Network is coordinated by Strategies for Children, a policy and advocacy agency advancing the needs of early education in Massachusetts.