Pilot Literacy Programme Brings Pre-School Parents and Teachers Together to Strengthen Early-Childhood Capacity

PR – With growing data from the Ministries of Education across Eastern Caribbean islands indicating deficits in early learning at the pre-primary level, the Sandals Foundation has joined the United States non-profit, Hands Across the Sea to pilot a literacy program targeting parental and community involvement.

Led by two of Grenada’s Literacy Links, educators, Gloria Bonaparte and Bernadette John, the Early Readers Pilot Programme saw close to one hundred boys and girls between ages three and five and some 35 adults recently gathered at the National Stadium to share lessons learnt and best practices following the successful completion of the innovative literacy programme.

“Data shows that some children are advancing to the primary level without basic literacy skills. Research is telling us early literacy intervention is more effective at an early age so with this programme, we are hoping to catch any gaps that may be present. What we know is that we cannot wait until Grade 6 or Form 5, because by then it is too late,” shared Bernadette John, Literacy Link for Hands Across the Sea.

She continued, “The Examination Unit of the Ministry of Education has indicated that some of the key language skills that need to be developed at the primary level are phonemic awareness, oral reading fluency and comprehension strategies. The starting place for all these skills is at the pre-primary level with teacher and parents’ participation. It is like a three legged stool, without one leg it will fall. Parents must partner with schools so that long-term literacy goals will be fulfilled.”

In January, in spite of challenges presented by COVID-19, the local coordinators, who are both retired Education Officers, safely provided digital and onsite support to teachers and parents allowing for the rotation of seven book titles, over a two week period, with students across five preschools, namely; River Sallee Pre-School, Nehemiah Pre-School, Windsor Forest Pre-School, Limes Pre- School and Park View Pre-School.

“With the featured books used as part of daily guided activities in school and at home and having corresponding action plans and reports to carefully monitor and share the best practices to encourage maximum participation, brings invaluable insight,” shared Deputy Chief Education Officer in the Ministry’s Early Childhood Unit, Charmaine Christopher.

Ms. Hilareca John, parent shared that “the programme was actually an eye opener into how as parents, we can be more actively involved in reading with our kids. I always allow my four year old son to picture read.” Secondly, “I have learnt many techniques such as read aloud to him and then we read together. I asked questions at the end of the story so I can get his understanding of it. Discussing and doing activities on the different books actually gave my son more interest in books and I also learnt that reading isn’t just about turning pages.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Maureen Church, teacher at Nehemiah Preschool said,” the techniques have helped students to boost their confidence and more so enhancing their cognitive development for example they were able to explore new things and this helped their creativity.” Exciting new creativities as were showcased and demonstrated in the closing ceremony.

Ms. Church also mentioned. “That the techniques helped the children develop their Grammar and Vocabulary skill sets. It also helps them in bonding with books and develop greater ability to concentrate for longer time spans.”

The Sandals Foundation is a long standing partner of Hands Across the Sea collaborating to refurbish and outfit some 65 school libraries across Grenada, St. Lucia, and Antigua. Recently, the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International provided some extra support to this new pilot by funding the ongoing initiative and its culminating event by way of venue rental, meals and multimedia equipment.

“Creating a strong foundation in literacy is key to building a child’s confidence and desire to read, explore and learn even more. The Sandals Foundation is committed to working with partners like Hands Across the Sea to cultivate the right immersive environments that sharpen the capacity of teachers and parents to inspire and bring out the best in their young ones,” Heidi Clarke, Executive Director at the Sandals Foundation.

The new Early Readers Pilot Programme is also supported by the Republic Bank and other local organizations and personnel. Results from this pilot will be used as a model to the next five schools that will be involved in the second phase of the project in the 2021-2022 school year. It will also enable Hands Across the Sea the opportunity to identify some best practices for implementation in the other OECS countries. Special emphasis would be placed on the areas for improvement identified in the post mortem meeting.

Going forward, the Literacy Links hope to see even greater parental involvement both at home and school. As, five new schools will be taken onboard from October 2021. Additionally, work will continue with the five schools used in the pilot phase. Each school will be given seven (7) big books and eight (8) matching small books for their continued use in the area of literacy with the new students.