Distance learning has moved many experts and leaders to bring forth several issues in education that require improvement. For LaSonya Moore, EdD, the need to increase literacy in the home is an issue that’s proven to be critical in supporting a child’s academic success.
“Children and families with low literacy skills, who historically face multiple structural, social, societal, educational and economic disadvantages in their daily lives, have also had limited access to learning opportunities as they desire to connect, communicate and continue their child's progressive educational efforts,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic and endemic has made these situations more pervasive for students of color—especially Black students in underserved communities.”
Last September, after receiving numerous emails and phone calls from parents and families in search of educational resources— notably those that support reading skills—Moore, an assistant professor in the College of Education at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, launched a literacy project through a mini service grant she received from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.Her efforts to build equitable learning and literacy in Pinellas County households was also supported by the Lectio Institute, the Center for Health and Equity and the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County.
An educator with more than 17 years of teaching and administrative experience in Pinellas County Schools, Moore says she is passionate about initiatives that place family literacy at the forefront.
“The literacy project at the onset was a collaborative conversation to hear the narratives of students, parents and community members regarding their concerns, challenges and needs surrounding literacy,” Dr. Moore said. “The communication (with families) allowed for creative consensus and co-constructions of in-home literacy libraries, which focused on individual family needs with content connected to science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).”
Moore said when children and families are sharing their own stories, these narratives begin to come to life as they connect the family’s authentic experiences to the context of their home and culturally diverse STEAM related stories within their in-home literacy libraries—these connections become real and therefore, more relevant, and deeply rooted in the context of the family.
Families with children ranging from infants to grade 12 participated in the project on a voluntary basis. Participants were guided to complete several modules, which explored topics related to access, literacy, race, learning and equity through the Lectio Institute. They also participated in webinars and workshops that helped them construct a literacy-driven environment in their homes.
Throughout the program, parents participated in collegial conversations, creating a network amongst each other, while also gaining access to physical and technological resources that support their children’s literacy goals and the main components related to literacy development.
“For parents in the project, the biggest ‘aha’ moment was realizing the number of small yet significant everyday things that parents and family members can do within their home that would help to build and increase their children’s and family’s literacy skills,” Moore said. “Having their child read the menu at restaurants, the back of cereal boxes, community flyers, children treat (wrappers), street signs, closed captions, and anything at home that creates caring conversations (helps create) an in-home culture that supports parents as teachers and children as learners. This process also gave parents a sense of success when engaging in every conversations and activities with their children.”
Moore says working with Black students and families has allowed her to support an underserved population of various St. Petersburg communities that currently face a literacy and reading crisis. In Pinellas County, 84 percent of Black elementary school students were failing state exams in 2015, according to the Tampa Bay Times.“Due to systemic racism, too often, the place where an individual is born, grows, lives, works, learns, and/or ages contains living and learning barriers, which disproportionately affects low-income, underserved neighborhoods and communities,” Moore said. “Black people in America have felt the effects of these disparities for centuries.”
To breakdown the structural, social, economic, political and educational living and learning disparities that contribute to this issue, Moore says communities must increase awareness, advocacy and action while inspiring and empowering individuals of all ages, and encourage the spreading of ideas, information exchange and organizational connections while building ongoing, authentic relationships via a “360 model” that focuses on a holistic view of children and families.
Moore plans to continue her work with families throughout the summer and is seeking additional research funding to support additional in-home literacy libraries and literacy efforts in Pinellas County.
Going forward, she aims to extend the program by creating a professional development
series that informs early childcare and PK-12 teachers with approaches and strategies
that will not only connect educators with their student’s families, but also position
early childcare providers and PreK-12 teachers to help parents develop and maintain
a culture of literacy and learning in their homes.
“It was imperative that I develop a project that would start small and low in cost, a ‘niche’ approach to promoting literacy and learning through authentic reading, writing, caring conversations, connections and storytelling for pleasure,” Moore said. “This community-developed literacy program uses the individual narratives to meet the children and families where they are with the goal of taking them where they need to be.”