Literacy Efforts Recognized With Congressional Award

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—The Literacy Project, headquartered in Newport Beach, Calif., has been awarded special congressional recognition for its work battling illiteracy in the community.

Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) presented the award May 26 to Literacy Project Foundation founder and volunteer chief executive Sue Grant during a ceremony held at The Mission Inn in Riverside.

Founded in 2009, The Literacy Project, in partnership with The Regents of the University of California, co-developed the reading game The New Phonics Game. The game helps teach phonetic skills to students that are performing well below English proficiency standards.

“It’s always an honor to receive awards like this congressional recognition by Congressman Calvert,” Grant told the Epoch Times. “It helps us to shine a light on the alarming decrease in reading proficiency levels, especially right now as we continue to battle the effects of school closures because of the pandemic.”

Nonprofit organizations such as Orangewood Children’s Home, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Girls, Inc. have used The New Phonics Game to help at-risk children.

The Literacy Project also serves the affordable housing industry in California, where illiteracy manifests among poverty-stricken areas.

“By engaging the children in a fun, socially interactive and collaborative way, struggling readers can use any or all of the modalities of the game to become more proficient readers,” Grant said. “Our program helps students to advance to more comprehensive reading levels that they might not otherwise achieve.”

Pandemic Pivot

When the pandemic hit, Grant says they had to make a rapid switch to an online learning format but were able to boost the audio and visual components of the game as a way of continuing to “bridge the literacy gap” despite the severe curriculum interruptions the closures imposed on public schools.

The Learning Project is currently servicing schools via three teaching modes: online, in classroom with distancing, and a hybrid of both depending on each classroom situation.

“I can’t emphasize enough the tremendous impact the ongoing gaps in education are having on all students, but especially those we serve who are at the highest risk of compromised reading ability. Illiteracy is a primary barrier to learning for kids.”

In 2018-2019, the Orange County Department of Education estimated that there were nearly 30,000 homeless children.

Grant said that because homelessness is just one of the many challenges these children face, they routinely experience gaps in their education, leaving them years behind students on a regular learning schedule. The impact of the COVID-19 closures, and more than a year of limited educational access have made the issue even more critical.

According to the Orange County Children’s Partnership, in 2019, one in six Orange County children were living in poverty. Its 2020 annual report indicated that nearly 30,000 students experience insecure housing, and low-income students are nearly three times less likely than their peers to exceed third-grade mathematics and English language standards.

Dreaming of the Future

As part of The Literacy Project program, students who participate are asked by their instructor to fill out “dream cards” in which they describe what they want to be when they grow up.

Grant shared some of the cards: one student wants to become a music teacher, another an artist, the next a paleontologist, another a lawyer and finally, a sheriff (“or football player, whichever comes first”).

“Some of these kids don’t even know where they will be sleeping at night,” Grant said. “There are times when I visit our classes that it’s almost overwhelming for me to witness their sincere longing to learn and listen to them articulate their hopes, to see that little fire of possibility in their eyes.

“It’s what keeps me going when the challenges of our world make it so tough to keep vulnerable children from beating the odds against illiteracy.”

Grant finished by saying that while receiving the congressional recognition was an honor, the kids moving ahead in their reading ability is really her biggest reward.

She said despite the overwhelming statistics in today’s world, little successes add up and motivate her and her team to continue their mission of providing the gift of literacy, something she says most people take for granted.

“I tell people who wonder if there will ever be a way to stem the tide of children falling through the cracks that we are simply providing a chance for these kids to grasp a future they can only achieve through an ability to read.”

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Lynn Hackman
Author: Lynn Hackman

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