2020 News Stories

Literacy Studies Program collaborates with Caribbean Community Association in 'Passport 2 Literacy' Event

USF professor and graduate student instruct students in a literacy activity at a local community event

College of Education Assistant Professor Alexandra Panos, PhD, and doctoral student Katharine Hull guide participants in a reading activity of their choice during the Carribean Community Association's 'Passport 2 Literacy' event. 

by Jessenia Rivera

At the Temple Terrace United Methodist Church, many families and individuals arrived with hopes of helping their children explore the world of reading.

Hosted by the Carribean Community Association (CCA), the 'Passport 2 Literacy' MLK event was presented with the goal of joining children and families together in order to develop and motivate young readers. To help make the event a success, representatives from the College of Education’s Literacy Studies program volunteered. 

Upon receiving their ‘passports’ at the entrance of the event, participants navigated towards eight designated tents that each represented different genres — biography and memoir, fantasy and fiction, fairy tales, folk tales, informational non-fiction, mystery, poetry and realistic fiction. 

Tasked with conveying their designated genres in an engaging way, each tent’s coordinators prepared unique activities with arts, crafts and books that served to stimulate the interest of children participating. After activities were completed in each tent, participants were given a stamp on their ‘passports’ and a book of their choice to take home, to represent the progress made in their literacy journeys.

Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies Patriann Smith, PhD, said she reached out to the CCA last August in hopes of assisting in the organization’s goal of improving literacy in the local community. Coincidently, she was told that the MLK-focused event had already been in the works.                                     

“I got a response almost immediately from the president of the CCA saying: ‘We are putting on an event. We need somebody who is focused on literacy. We want to collaborate with you,’” Dr. Smith said. 

According to AreaVibes.com, test scores in the five schools in Temple Terrace were at an average of 46 percent in 2016. Due to this number being lower than state and national averages, the CCA grew concern and felt moved to confront this issue with a community literacy event. 

Beverley McEachron, chair of the Passport 2 Literacy event committee, said the issue stems from students looking at reading as a task. Aiming to overcome this barrier, she and other members of the CCA worked towards creating an event that inspired a love for reading among children and their families. 

“We wanted to put some emphasis on the joys of reading,” McEachron said. 

Seeking to include her colleagues from USF's Literacy Studies program, Dr. Smith reached out to other individuals from the program to get started. 

Taking over the biography and memoir tent, Assistant Professor Alexandra Panos, PhD, and doctoral student Katharine Hull jointly set up various activities for children to choose from. As participants approached the tent, they were given the option of writing their own memoirs, creating their own life maps or reading the biographies of African Americans who made a mark in history. 

Assistant professor reads with girls in the grass

Assistant Professor Alexandra Panos, PhD, reads along with two girls as they explore the stories of admired African American women throughout history.

With the names and faces of 50 accomplished African Americans surrounding Dr. Panos and Hull’s tent, many children paused with interest to learn about individuals such as Michelle Obama, Mae Carol Jemison and Jesse Owens. While younger children felt more comfortable reading about others, adolescents who visited the biography and memoir tent were more drawn towards the idea of writing their own stories. 

As expressed by Dr. Panos, a huge focus for this tent's activities was getting participants to dig deeper into who they are as individuals. Her efforts in incorporating these activities were all tied to honoring the one person who spoke much about the function of education in society. 

“I think Martin Luther King told a story about what is possible for us here in the United States,” Dr. Panos said. “As Literacy Studies faculty, we are very committed to providing tools and resources and access for all children across the region to be able to tell their own story.” 

Leading the informational non-fiction tent, Professor Jenifer Schneider, PhD, worked alongside a few high school students as she brought forth activities that increased the understanding of the tent's assigned genre. 

USF Professor helps students on literacy activity at local community event.

College of Education Professor Jenifer Schneider, PhD, helps two children create a visual story with the clay in hand.

Similar to the activities administered in the biography and memoir tent, children had options to write stories based on the concepts presented in books given to them. However, as participants approached Dr. Schneider’s tent, they were more intrigued by the stop-motion animation station that allowed them to construct their own characters with clay and physically manipulate their creations as they took a series of photographs. 

Along with its engaging components, Dr. Schneider says the activity itself helps support visual literacy in children. 

“When (children) know how images are made, they become more critical about what they see and read,” Dr. Schneider said. “You could see the light bulb go on.” 

When asked about her involvement in the Passport 2 Literacy event, Dr. Schneider shared how it’s essential for the USF Literacy Studies program to be apart of any community event related to literacy. Moreover, she also communicated how literacy plays a role in individuals both younger and older. 

“I think the ability to read is a primary social justice issue and it’s not just about kindergarten and first grade classrooms,” Dr. Schneider said. “Our participation (in the event) is a continuation of what we’ve been doing in literacy for a very long time.”